By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: Charles Lamb: A Memoir
Author: Cornwall, Barry
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Charles Lamb: A Memoir" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.


A Memoir



In my seventy-seventh year. I have been invited to place on record my
recollections of Charles Lamb.

I am, I believe, nearly the only man now surviving who knew much of the
excellent "Elia." Assuredly I knew him more intimately than any other
existing person, during the last seventeen or eighteen years of his life.

In this predicament, and because I am proud to associate my name with his,
I shall endeavor to recall former times, and to bring my old friend before
the eyes of a new generation.

I request the "courteous reader" to accept, for what they are worth, these
desultory labors of a lover of letters; and I hope that the advocate for
modern times will try to admit into the circle of his sympathy my
recollections of a fine Genius departed.

No harm--possibly some benefit--will accrue to any one who may consent to
extend his acquaintance to one of the rarest and most delicate of the
Humorists of England.

    B. W. PROCTER.
    _May_, 1866.



  Biography: Few Events.
  One predominant.
  His Devotion to it.
  Tendency to Literature.
  First Studies.
  Influence of Antique Dwellings.
  Early Friends.
  Qualities of Mind.
  Sympathy for neglected Objects.
  A Nonconformist.


  Birth and Parentage.
  Christ's Hospital.
  South Sea House and India House.
  Condition of Family.
  Death of Mother.
  Mary in Asylum.
  John Lamb.
  Charles's Means of Living.
  His Home.
  Alice W.
  Brother and Sister.


  Jem White.
  Lamb's Inspiration.
  Early Letters.
  Poem published.
  Charles Lloyd.
  Liking for Burns, &c.
  Robert Southey.
  Southey and Coleridge.
  Rosamond Gray.
  George Dyer.
  Mary's Illnesses.
  Hester Savory.


  "John Woodvil."
  Visit to the Lakes.
  Morning Post.
  Ode to Tobacco.
  Dramatic Specimens, &c.
  Inner Temple Lane.
  Hogarth and Sir J. Reynolds.
  Leigh Hunt.
  Lamb, Hazlitt, and Hunt.
  Russell Street and Theatrical Friends.


  My Recollections.
  Russell Street.
  Personal Appearance.
  Tendency of Mind.
  Alleged Excesses.
  Mode of Life.
  Love of Smoking.
  His Lodgings.
  His Sister.
  Reading aloud.
  Tastes and Opinions.
  Love of Books.
  Wednesday Parties.
  His Companions.
  Epitaph upon them.


  London Magazine.
  Transfer of Magazine.
  Monthly Dinners and Visitors.
  Colebrook Cottage.
  Lamb's Walks.
  Essays of Elia: Their Excellence and Character.
  Enlarged Acquaintance.
  Visit to Paris.
  Miss Isola.
  Quarrel with Southey.
  Leaves India House.
  Amicus Redivivus.
  Edward Irving.


  Specimen of Lamb's Humor.
  Death of Mr. Norris.
  Garrick Plays.
  Letters to Barton.
  Opinions on Books.
  Breakfast with Mr. N. P. Willis.
  Moves to Enfield.
  Caricature of Lamb.
  Albums and Acrostics.
  Pains of Leisure.
  The Barton Correspondence.
  Death of Hazlitt.
  Munden's Acting and Quitting the Stage.
  Lamb becomes a Boarder.
  Moves to Edmonton.
  Metropolitan Attachments.
  Death of Coleridge.
  Lamb's Fall and Death.
  Death of Mary Lamb.





_Introduction.--Biography: Few Events.--One predominant.--His Devotion to
it.--Tendency to Literature.--First Studies.--Influence of Antique
Dwellings.--Early Friends.--Humor.--Qualities of Mind.--Sympathy for
neglected Objects.--A Nonconformist.--Predilections.--Character.--Taste.--

The biography of CHARLES LAMB lies within a narrow compass. It comprehends
only few events. His birth and parentage, and domestic sorrows; his
acquaintance with remarkable men; his thoughts and habits; and his
migrations from one home to another,--constitute the sum and substance of
his almost uneventful history. It is a history with one event,

For this reason, and because I, in common with many others, hold a book
needlessly large to be a great evil, it is my intention to confine the
present memoir within moderate limits. My aim is not to write the "Life
and Times" of Charles Lamb. Indeed, Lamb had no influence on his own
times. He had little or nothing in common with his generation, which was
almost a stranger to him. There was no reciprocity between them. His
contemplations were retrospective. He was, when living, the centre of a
small social circle; and I shall therefore deal incidentally with some of
its members. In other respects, this memoir will contain only what I
recollect and what I have learned from authentic sources of my old friend.

The fact that distinguished Charles Lamb from other men was his entire
devotion to one grand and tender purpose. There is, probably, a romance
involved in every life. In his life it exceeded that of others. In
gravity, in acuteness, in his noble battle with a great calamity, it was
beyond the rest. Neither pleasure nor toil ever distracted him from his
holy purpose. Everything was made subservient to it. He had an insane
sister, who, in a moment of uncontrollable madness, had unconsciously
destroyed her own mother; and to protect and save this sister--a gentle
woman, who had watched like a mother over his own infancy--the whole
length of his life was devoted. What he endured, through the space of
nearly forty years, from the incessant fear and frequent recurrence of his
sister's insanity, can now only be conjectured. In this constant and
uncomplaining endurance, and in his steady adherence to a great principle
of conduct, his life was heroic.

We read of men giving up all their days to a single object--to religion,
to vengeance, to some overpowering selfish wish; of daring acts done to
avert death or disgrace, or some oppressing misfortune. We read mythical
tales of friendship; but we do not recollect any instance in which a great
object has been so unremittingly carried out throughout a whole life, in
defiance of a thousand difficulties, and of numberless temptations,
straining the good resolution to its utmost, except in the case of our
poor clerk of the India House.

This was, substantially, his life. His actions, thoughts, and sufferings
were all concentred on this one important end. It was what he had to do;
it was in his reach; and he did it, therefore, manfully, religiously. He
did not waste his mind on too many things; for whatever too much expands
the mind weakens it; nor on vague or multitudinous thoughts and
speculations; nor on dreams or things distant or unattainable. However
interesting, they did not absorb him, body and soul, like the safety and
welfare of his sister.

Subject to this primary unflinching purpose, the tendency of Lamb's mind
pointed strongly towards literature. He did not seek literature, however;
and he gained from it nothing except his fame. He worked laboriously at
the India House from boyhood to manhood; for many years without repining;
although he must have been conscious of an intellect qualified to shine in
other ways than in entering up a trader's books. None of those coveted
offices, which bring money and comfort in their train, ever reached
Charles Lamb. He was never under that bounteous shower which government
leaders and persons of influence direct towards the heads of their
adherents. No Dives ever selected him for his golden bounty. No potent
critic ever shouldered him up the hill of fame. In the absence of these
old-fashioned helps, he was content that his own unassisted efforts should
gain for him a certificate of capability to the world, and that the choice
reputation which he thus earned should, with his own qualities, bring
round him the unenvying love of a host of friends.

Lamb had always been a studious boy and a great reader; and after passing
through Christ's Hospital and the South Sea House, and being for some
years in the India House, this instinctive passion of his mind (for
literature) broke out. In this he was, without doubt, influenced by the
example and counsel of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, his school-fellow and
friend, for whom he entertained a high and most tender respect. The first
books which he loved to read were volumes of poetry, and essays on serious
and religious themes. The works of all the old poets, the history of
Quakers, the biography of Wesley, the controversial papers of Priestley,
and other books on devout subjects, sank into his mind. From reading he
speedily rose to writing; from being a reader he became an author. His
first writings were entirely serious. These were verses, or letters,
wherein religious thoughts and secular criticisms took their places in
turn; or they were grave dramas, which exhibit and lead to the
contemplation of character, and which nourish those moods out of which
humor ultimately arises.

So much has been already published, that it is needless to encumber this
short narrative with any minute enumeration of the qualities which
constitute his station in literature; but I shall, as a part of my task,
venture to refer to some of those which distinguish him from other

Lamb's very curious and peculiar humor showed itself early. It was perhaps
born of the solitude in which his childhood passed away; perhaps cherished
by the seeds of madness that were in him, that were in his sister, that
were in the ancestry from which he sprung. Without doubt, it caught color
from the scenes in the midst of which he grew up. Born in the Temple,
educated in Christ's Hospital, and passed onwards to the South Sea House,
his first visions were necessarily of antiquity. The grave old buildings,
tenanted by lawyers and their clerks, were replaced by "the old and awful
cloisters" of the School of Edward; and these in turn gave way to the
palace of the famous Bubble, now desolate, with its unpeopled Committee
Rooms, its pictures of Governors of Queen Anne's time, "its dusty maps of
Mexico, dim as dreams, and soundings of the Bay of Panama." These things,
if they impressed his mind imperfectly at first, in time formed themselves
into the shape of truths, and assumed significance and importance; as
words and things, glanced over hastily in childhood, grow and ripen, and
enrich the understanding in after days.

Lamb's earliest friends and confidants, with one exception, were
singularly void of wit and the love of jesting. His sister was grave; his
father gradually sinking into dotage; Coleridge was immersed in religious
subtilties and poetic dreams; and Charles Lloyd, sad and logical and
analytical, was the antithesis of all that is lively and humorous. But
thoughts and images stole in from other quarters; and Lamb's mind was
essentially quick and productive. Nothing lay barren in it; and much of
what was planted there, grew, and spread, and became beautiful. He himself
has sown the seeds of humor in many English hearts. His own humor is
essentially English. It is addressed to his own countrymen; to the men
"whose limbs were made in England;" not to foreign intellects, nor perhaps
to the universal mind. Humor, which is the humor of a man (of the writer
himself or of his creations), must frequently remain, in its fragrant
blossoming state, in the land of its birth. Like some of the most delicate
wines and flowers, it will not bear travel.

Apart from his humor and other excellences, Charles Lamb combined
qualities such as are seldom united in one person; which indeed seem not
easily reconcilable with each other: namely, much prudence, with much
generosity; great tenderness of heart, with a firm will. To these was
superadded that racy humor which has served to distinguish him from other
men. There is no other writer, that I know of, in whom tenderness, and
good sense, and humor are so intimately and happily blended; no one whose
view of men and things is so invariably generous, and true, and
independent. These qualities made their way slowly and fairly. They were
not taken up as a matter of favor or fancy, and then abandoned. They
struggled through many years of neglect, and some of contumely, before
they took their stand triumphantly, and as things not to be ignored by any

Lamb pitied all objects which had been neglected or despised. Nevertheless
the lens through which he viewed the objects of his pity,--beggars, and
chimney-sweepers, and convicts,--was always clear: it served him even when
their short-comings were to be contemplated. For he never paltered with
truth. He had no weak sensibilities, few tears for imaginary griefs. But
his heart opened wide to real distress. He never applauded the fault; but
he pitied the offender. He had a word of compassion for the sheep-stealer,
who was arrested and lost his ill-acquired sheep, "his first, last, and
only hope of a mutton pie;" and vented his feelings in that sonnet
(rejected by the magazines) which he has called "The Gypsey's Malison."
Although he was willing to acknowledge merit when it was successful, he
preferred it, perhaps, when it was not clothed with prosperity.

By education and habit, he was a Unitarian. Indeed, he was a true
Nonconformist in all things. He was not a dissenter by imitation, nor from
any deep principle or obstinate heresy; nor was he made servile and
obedient by formal logic alone. His reasoning always rose and streamed
through the heart. He liked a friend for none of the ordinary reasons;
because he was famous, or clever, or powerful, or popular. He at once took
issue with the previous verdicts, and examined the matter in his own way.
If a man was unfortunate, he gave him money. If he was calumniated, he
accorded him sympathy. He gave freely; not to merit, but to want.

He pursued his own fancies, his own predilections. He did not neglect his
own instinct (which is always true), and aim at things foreign to his
nature. He did not cling to any superior intellect, nor cherish any
inferior humorist or wit.

Perhaps no one ever thought more independently. He had great enjoyment in
the talk of able men, so that it did not savor of form or pretension. He
liked the strenuous talk of Hazlitt, who never descended to fine words. He
liked the unaffected, quiet conversation of Manning, the vivacious,
excursive talk of Leigh Hunt. He heard with wondering admiration the
monologues of Coleridge. Perhaps he liked the simplest talk the best;
expressions of pity or sympathy, or affection for others; from young
people, who thought and said little or nothing about themselves.

He had no craving for popularity, nor even for fame. I do not recollect
any passage in his writings, nor any expression in his talk, which runs
counter to my opinion. In this respect he seems to have differed from
Milton (who desired fame, like "Blind Thamyris and blind Maeonides"), and
to have rather resembled Shakespeare, who was indifferent to fame or
assured of it; but perhaps he resembled no one.

Lamb had not many personal antipathies, but he had a strong aversion to
pretence and false repute. In particular, he resented the adulation of the
epitaph-mongers who endeavored to place Garrick, the actor, on a level
with Shakespeare. Of that greatest of all poets he has said such things as
I imagine Shakespeare himself would have liked to hear. He has also
uttered brave words in behalf of Shakespeare's contemporary dramatists;
partly because they deserved them, partly because they were unjustly
forgotten. The sentence of oblivion, passed by ignorant ages on the
reputation of these fine authors, he has annulled, and forced the world to
confess that preceding judges were incompetent to entertain the case.

I cannot imagine the mind of Charles Lamb, even in early boyhood, to have
been weak or childish. In his first letters you see that he was a thinker.
He is for a time made sombre by unhappy reflections. He is a reader of
thoughtful books. The witticisms which he coined for sixpence each (for
the Morning Chronicle) had, no doubt, less of metallic lustre than those
which he afterwards meditated; and which were highly estimated.
_Effodiuntur opes_. His jests were never the mere overflowings of the
animal spirits, but were exercises of the mind. He brought the wisdom of
old times and old writers to bear upon the taste and intellect of his day.
What was in a manner foreign to his age, he naturalized and cherished. And
he did this with judgment and great delicacy. His books never unhinge or
weaken the mind, but bring before it tender and beautiful thoughts, which
charm and nourish it as only good books can. No one was ever worse from
reading Charles Lamb's writings; but many have become wiser and better.
Sometimes, as he hints, "he affected that dangerous figure, irony;" and he
would sometimes interrupt grave discussion, when he thought it too grave,
with some light jest, which nevertheless was "not quite irrelevant." Long
talkers, as he confesses, "hated him;" and assuredly he hated long

In his countenance you might sometimes read--what may be occasionally read
on almost all foreheads--the letters and lines of old, unforgotten
calamity. Yet there was at the bottom of his nature a buoyant self-
sustaining strength; for although he encountered frequent seasons of
mental distress, his heart recovered itself in the interval, and rose and
sounded, like music played to a happy tune. Upon fit occasion, his lips
could shut in a firm fashion; but the gentle smile that played about his
face showed that he was always ready to relent. His quick eye never had
any sullenness: his mouth, tender and tremulous, showed that there would
be nothing cruel or inflexible in his nature.

On referring to his letters, it must be confessed that in literature
Lamb's taste, like that of all others, was at first imperfect. For taste
is a portion of our judgment, and must depend a good deal on our
experience, and on our opportunities of comparing the claims of different
pretenders. Lamb's affections swayed him at all times. He sympathized
deeply with Cowper and his melancholy history, and at first estimated his
verse, perhaps, beyond its strict value. He was intimate with Southey, and
anticipated that he would rival Milton. Then his taste was at all times
peculiar. He seldom worshipped the Idol which the multitude had set up. I
was never able to prevail on him to admit that "Paradise Lost" was greater
than "Paradise Regained;" I believe, indeed, he liked the last the best.
He would not discuss the Poetry of Lord Byron or Shelley, with a view of
being convinced of their beauties. Apart from a few points like these, his
opinions must be allowed to be sound; almost always; if not as to the
style of the author, then as to the quality of his book or passage which
he chose to select. And his own style was always good, from the beginning,
in verse as well as in prose. His first sonnets are unaffected, well
sustained, and well written.

I do not know much of the opinion of others; but to my thinking the style
of Charles Lamb, in his "Elia," and in the letters written by him in the
later (the last twenty) years of his life, is full of grace; not
antiquated, but having a touch of antiquity. It is self-possessed, choice,
delicate, penetrating, his words running into the innermost sense of
things. It is not, indeed, adapted to the meanest capacity, but is racy,
and chaste, after his fashion. Perhaps it is sometimes scriptural: at all
events it is always earnest and sincere. He was painfully in earnest in
his advocacy of Hazlitt and Hunt, and in his pleadings for Hogarth and the
old dramatists. Even in his humor, his fictitious (as well as his real)
personages have a character of reality about them which gives them their
standard value. They all ring like true coin. In conversation he loved to
discuss persons or books, and seldom ventured upon the stormy sea of
politics; his intimates lying on the two opposite shores, Liberal and
Tory. Yet, when occasion moved him, he did not refuse to express his
liberal opinions. There was little or nothing cloudy or vague about him;
he required that there should be known ground even in fiction. He rejected
the poems of Shelley (many of them so consummately beautiful), because
they were too exclusively ideal. Their efflorescence, he thought, was not
natural. He preferred Southey's "Don Roderick" to his "Curse of Kehama;"
of which latter poem he says, "I don't feel that firm footing in it that I
do in 'Roderick.' My imagination goes sinking and floundering in the vast
spaces of unopened systems and faiths. I am put out of the pale of my old

Charles Lamb had much respect for some of the modern authors. In
particular, he admired (to the full extent of his capacity for liking)
Coleridge, and Wordsworth, and Burns. But with these exceptions his
affections rested mainly on writers who had lived before him; on _some_ of
them; for there were "things in books' clothing" from which he turned away
loathing. He was not a worshipper of the customs and manners of old times,
so much as of the tangible objects that old times have bequeathed to us;
the volumes tinged with decay, the buildings (the Temple, Christ's
Hospital, &c.) colored and enriched by the hand of age. Apart from these,
he clung to the time present; for if he hated anything in the extreme
degree, he hated change.

He clung to life, although life had bestowed upon him no magnificent
gifts; none, indeed, beyond books, and friends (a "ragged regiment"), and
an affectionate, contented mind. He had, he confesses, "an intolerable
disinclination to dying;" which beset him especially in the winter months.
"I am not content to pass away like a weaver's shuttle. Any alteration in
this earth of mine discomposes me. My household gods plant a terrible
fixed foot, and are not rooted up without blood." He seems never to have
looked into the Future. His eyes were on the present or (oftener) on the
past. It was always thus from his boyhood. His first readings were
principally Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger, Isaac Walton, &c. "I gather
myself up" (he writes) "unto the old things." He has indeed extracted the
beauty and innermost value of Antiquity, whenever he has pressed it into
his service.


_Birth and Parentage.--Christ's Hospital.--South Sea House and India
House.--Condition of Family.--Death of Mother.--Mary in Asylum.--John
Lamb.--Charles's Means of Living.--His Home.--Despondency.--Alice W.--
Brother and Sister._

On the south side of Fleet Street, near to where it adjoins Temple Bar,
lies the Inner Temple. It extends southward to the Thames, and contains
long ranges of melancholy buildings, in which lawyers (those reputed birds
of prey) and their followers congregate. It is a district very memorable.
About seven hundred years ago, it was the abiding-place of the Knights
Templars, who erected there a church, which still uplifts its round tower
(its sole relic) for the wonder of modern times. Fifty years since, I
remember, you entered the precinct through a lowering archway that opened
into a gloomy passage--Inner Temple Lane. On the east side rose the
church; and on the west was a dark line of chambers, since pulled down and
rebuilt, and now called Johnson's Buildings. At some distance westward was
an open court, in which was a sun-dial, and, in the midst, a solitary
fountain, that sent its silvery voice into the air above, the murmur of
which, descending, seemed to render the place more lonely. Midway, between
the Inner Temple Lane and the Thames, was, and I believe still is, a range
of substantial chambers (overlooking the gardens and the busy river),
called Crown Office Row. In one of these chambers, on the 18th day of
February, 1775, Charles Lamb was born.

He was the son of John and Elizabeth Lamb; and he and his brother John and
his sister Mary (both of whom were considerably older than himself) were
the only children of their parents. John was twelve years, and Mary
(properly Mary Anne) was ten years older than Charles. Their father held
the post of clerk to Mr. Samuel Salt, a barrister, one of the benchers of
the Inner Temple; a mild, amiable man, very indolent, very shy, and, as I
imagine, not much known in what is called "the profession."

Lamb sprang, paternally, from a humble stock, which had its root in the
county of Lincoln. At one time of his life his father appears to have
dwelt at Stamford. In his imaginary ascent from plain Charles Lamb to Pope
Innocent, one of the gradations is Lord Stamford. His mother's family came
from Hertfordshire, where his grandmother was a housekeeper in the Plumer
family, and where several of his cousins long resided. He did not attempt
to trace his ancestry (of which he wisely made no secret) beyond two or
three generations. In an agreeable sonnet, entitled "The Family Name," he
speaks of his sire's sire, but no further: "We trace our stream no
higher." Then he runs into some pleasant conjectures as to his possible
progenitors, of whom he knew nothing.

    "Perhaps some shepherd on Lincolnian plains,"

he says, first received the name; perhaps some martial lord, returned from
"holy Salem;" and then he concludes with a resolve,--

    "No deed of mine shall shame thee, gentle Name,"

which he kept religiously throughout his life.

When Charles was between seven and eight years of age, he became a scholar
in Christ's Hospital, a presentation having been given to his father, for
the son's benefit. He entered that celebrated school on the 9th of
October, 1782, and remained there until the 23d November, 1789, being then
between fourteen and fifteen years old. The records of his boyhood are
very scanty. He was always a grave, inquisitive boy. Once, when walking
with his sister through some churchyard, he inquired anxiously, "Where do
the naughty people lie?" the unqualified panegyrics which he encountered
on the tombstones doubtless suggesting the inquiry. Mr. Samuel Le Grice
(his schoolfellow) states that he was an amiable, gentle youth, very
sensible, and keenly observing; that "his complexion was clear brown, his
countenance mild, his eyes differing in color, and that he had a slow and
peculiar walk." He adds that he was never mentioned without the addition
of his Christian name, Charles, implying a general feeling of kindness
towards him. His delicate frame and difficulty of utterance, it is said,
unfitted him for joining in any boisterous sports.

After he left Christ's Hospital, he returned home, where he had access to
the large miscellaneous library of Mr. Salt. He and his sister were (to
use his own words) "tumbled into a spacious closet of good old English
reading, and browsed at will on that fair and wholesome pasturage." This,
however, could not have lasted long, for it was the destiny of Charles
Lamb to be compelled to labor almost from, his boyhood. He was able to
read Greek, and had acquired great facility in Latin composition, when he
left the Hospital; but an unconquerable impediment in his speech deprived
him of an "exhibition" in the school, and, as a consequence, of the
benefit of a college education.

The state of Christ's Hospital, at the time when Lamb was a scholar there,
may be ascertained with tolerable correctness from his two essays,
entitled "Recollections of Christ's Hospital" and "Christ's Hospital five
and thirty years ago." These papers when read together show the different
(favorable and unfavorable) points of this great establishment. They leave
no doubt as to its extensive utility. Although, strictly speaking, it was
a charitable home for the sustenance and education of boys, slenderly
provided, or unprovided, with the means of learning, they were neither
lifted up beyond their own family nor depressed by mean habits, such as an
ordinary charity school is supposed to generate. They floated onwards
towards manhood in a wholesome middle region, between a too rare ether and
the dense and abject atmosphere of pauperism. The Hospital boy (as Lamb
says) never felt himself to be a charity boy. The antiquity and regality
of the foundation to which he belonged, and the mode or style of his
education, sublimated him beyond the heights of the laboring classes.

From the "Christ's Hospital five and thirty years ago," it would appear
that the comforts enjoyed by Lamb himself exceeded those of his
schoolfellows, owing to his friends supplying him with extra delicacies.
There is no doubt that great tyranny was then exercised by the older boys
(the monitors) over the younger ones; that the scholars had anything but
choice and ample rations; and that hunger ("the eldest, strongest of the
passions") was not a tyrant unknown throughout this large institution.

Lamb remained at Christ's Hospital for seven years; but on the half-
holidays (two in every week) he used to go to his parents' home, in the
Temple, and when there would muse on the terrace or by the lonely
fountain, or contemplate the dial, or pore over the books in Mr. Salt's
library, until those antiquely-colored thoughts rose up in his mind which
in after years he presented to the world.

Amongst the advantages which Charles derived from his stay at Christ's
Hospital, was one which, although accidental, was destined to have great
effect on his subsequent life. It happened that he reckoned amongst his
schoolfellows one who afterwards achieved a very extensive reputation,
namely, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This youth was his elder by two years;
and his example influenced Lamb materially on many occasions, and
ultimately led him into literature. Coleridge's projects, at the outset of
life, were vacillating. In this respect Lamb was no follower of his
schoolfellow, his own career being steady and unswerving from his entrance
into the India House until the day of his freedom from service--between
thirty and forty years. His literary tastes, indeed, took independently
almost the same tone as those of his friend; and their religious views
(for Coleridge in his early years became a Unitarian) were the same.

When Coleridge left Christ's Hospital he went to the University--to Jesus
College, Cambridge; but came back occasionally to London, where the
intimacy between him and Lamb was cemented. Their meetings at the smoky
little public house in the neighborhood of Smithfield--the "Salutation and
Cat"--consecrated by pipes and tobacco (Orinoco), by egg-hot and Welsh
rabbits, and metaphysics and poetry, are exultingly referred to in Lamb's
letters. Lamb entertained for Coleridge's genius the greatest respect,
until death dissolved their friendship. In his earliest verses (so dear to
a young poet) he used to submit his thoughts to Coleridge's amendments or
critical suggestions; and on one occasion was obliged to cry out, "Spare
my ewe lambs: they are the reflected images of my own feelings."

It was at a very tender age that Charles Lamb entered the "work-a-day"
world. His elder brother, John, had at that time a clerkship in the South
Sea House, and Charles passed a short time there under his brother's care
or control, and must thus have gained some knowledge of figures. The
precise nature of his occupation in this deserted place, however (where
some forms of business were kept up, "though the soul be long since fled,"
and where the directors met mainly "to declare a dead dividend"), is not
stated in the charming paper of "The South Sea House." Charles remained in
this office only until the 5th April, 1792, when he obtained an
appointment (through the influence, I believe, of Mr. Salt) as clerk in
the Accountant's Office of the East India Company. He was then seventeen
years of age.

About three years after Charles became a clerk in the India House, his
family appear to have moved from Crown Office Row into poor lodgings at
No. 7 Little Queen Street, Holborn. His father at that time had a small
pension from Mr. Salt, whose service he had left, being almost fatuous;
his mother was ill and bedridden; and his sister Mary was tired but, by
needle-work all day, and by taking care of her mother throughout the
night. "Of all the people in the world" (Charles says), "she was most
thoroughly devoid of all selfishness." There was also, as a member of the
family, an old aunt, who had a trifling annuity for her life, which she
poured into the common fund. John Lamb (Charles's elder brother) lived
elsewhere, having occasional intercourse only with his kindred. He
continued, however, to visit them, whilst he preserved his "comfortable"
clerkship in the South Sea House.

It was under this state of things that they all drifted down to the
terrible year 1796. It was a year dark with horror. There was an
hereditary taint of insanity in the family, which caused even Charles
himself to be placed, for a short time, in Hoxton Lunatic Asylum. "The six
weeks that finished last year and began this (1796), your very humble
servant spent very agreeably in a madhouse, at Hoxton." These are his
words when writing to Coleridge.

Mary Lamb had previously been repeatedly attacked by the same dreadful
disorder; and this now broke out afresh in a sudden burst of acute
madness. She had been moody and ill for some little time previously, and
the illness came to a crisis on the 23d of September, 1796. On that day,
just before dinner, Mary seized a "case-knife" which was lying on the
table, pursued a little girl (her apprentice) round the room, hurled about
the dinner forks, and finally, in a fit of uncontrollable frenzy, stabbed
her mother to the heart.

Charles was at hand only in time to snatch the knife out of her grasp,
before further hurt could be done. He found his father wounded in the
forehead by one of the forks, and his aunt lying insensible, and
apparently dying, on the floor of the room.

This happened on a Thursday; and on the following day an inquest was held
on the mother's body, and a verdict of Mary's lunacy was immediately found
by the jury. The Lambs had a few friends. Mr. Norris--the friend of
Charles's father and of his own childhood--"was very kind to us;" and Sam.
Le Grice "then in town" (Charles writes) "was as a brother to me, and gave
up every hour of his time in constant attendance on my father."

After the fatal deed, Mary Lamb was deeply afflicted. Her act was in the
first instance totally unknown to her. Afterwards, when her consciousness
returned and she was informed of it, she suffered great grief. And
subsequently, when she became "calm and serene," and saw the misfortune in
a clearer light, this was "far, very far from an indecent or forgetful
serenity," as her brother says. She had no defiant air, no affectation,
nor too extravagant a display of sorrow. She saw her act, as she saw all
other things, by the light of her own clear and gentle good sense. She was
sad; but the deed was past recall, and at the time of its commission had
been utterly beyond either her control or knowledge.

After the inquest, Mary Lamb was placed in a lunatic asylum, where, after
a short time, she recovered her serenity. A rapid recovery after violent
madness is not an unusual mark of the disease; it being in cases of quiet,
inveterate insanity, that the return to sound mind (if it ever recur) is
more gradual and slow. The recovery, however, was only temporary in her
case. She was throughout her life subject to frequent recurrences of the
same disease. At one time her brother Charles writes, "Poor Mary's
disorder so frequently recurring has made us a sort of marked people." At
another time he says, "I consider her as perpetually on the brink of
madness." And so, indeed, she continued during the remainder of her life;
and she lived to the age of eighty-two years.

Charles was now left alone in the world. His father was imbecile; his
sister insane; and his brother afforded no substantial assistance or
comfort. He was scarcely out of boyhood when he learned that the world has
its dangerous places and barren deserts; and that he had to struggle for
his living, without help. He found that he had to take upon himself all
the cares of a parent or protector (to his sister) even before he had
studied the duties of a man.

Sudden as death came down the necessary knowledge: how to live, and how to
live well. The terrible event that had fallen upon him and his, instead of
casting him down, and paralyzing his powers, braced and strung his sinews
into preternatural firmness. It is the character of a feeble mind to lie
prostrate before the first adversary. In his case it lifted him out of
that momentary despair which always follows a great calamity. It was like
extreme cold to the system, which often overthrows the weak and timid, but
gives additional strength and power of endurance to the brave and the

"My aunt was lying apparently dying" (writes Lamb), "my father with a
wound on his poor forehead, and my mother a murdered corpse, in the next
room. I felt that I had something else to do than to regret. _I had the
whole weight of the family upon me;_ for my brother--little disposed at
any time to take care of old age and infirmity--has now, with his bad leg,
exemption from such duties; and I am now left alone."

In about a month after his mother's death (3d October), Charles writes,
"My poor, dear, dearest sister, the unhappy and unconscious instrument of
the Almighty's judgment on our house, is restored to her senses; to a
dreadful sense of what has passed; awful to her mind, but tempered with a
religious resignation. She knows how to distinguish between a deed
committed in a fit of frenzy and the terrible guilt of a mother's murder."
In another place he says, "She bears her situation as one who has no right
to complain." He himself visits her and upholds her, and rejoices in her
continued reason. For her use he borrows books ("for reading was her daily
bread"), and gives up his time and all his thoughts to her comfort.

Thus, in their quiet grief, making no show, yet suffering more than could
be shown by clamorous sobs or frantic words, the two--brother and sister--
enter upon the bleak world together. "Her love," as Mr. Wordsworth states
in the epitaph on Charles Lamb, "was as the love of mothers" towards her
brother. It may be said that his love for her was the deep life-long love
of the tenderest son. In one letter he writes, "It was not a family where
I could take Mary with me; and I am afraid that there is something of
dishonesty in any pleasures I take without her." Many years afterwards (in
1834, the very year in which he died) he writes to Miss Fryer, "It is no
new thing for me to be left with my sister. When she is not violent, _her
rambling chat is better to me than the sense and sanity of the world."_
Surely there is great depth of pathos in these unaffected words; in the
love that has outlasted all the troubles of life, and is thus tenderly
expressed, almost at his last hour.

John Lamb, the elder brother of Charles, held a clerkship, with some
considerable salary, in the South Sea House. I do not retain an agreeable
impression of him. If not rude, he was sometimes, indeed generally, abrupt
and unprepossessing in manner. He was assuredly deficient in that courtesy
which usually springs from a mind at friendship with the world.
Nevertheless, without much reasoning power (apparently), he had much
cleverness of character; except when he had to purchase paintings, at
which times his judgment was often at fault. One of his sayings is
mentioned in the (Elia) essay of "My Relations." He seems to have been, on
one occasion, contemplating a group of Eton boys at play, when he
observed, "What a pity it is to think that these fine ingenuous lads will
some day be changed into frivolous members of Parliament?" Like some
persons who, although case-hardened at home, overflow with sympathy
towards distant objects, he cared less for the feelings of his neighbor
close at hand than for the eel out of water or the oyster disturbed in its

John Lamb was the favorite of his mother, as the deformed child is
frequently the dearest. "She would always love my brother above Mary,"
Charles writes in 1796, "although he was not worth one tenth of the
affection which Mary had a right to claim. Poor Mary! my mother never
understood her right." In another place (after he had been unburdening his
heart to Coleridge), he writes cautiously, "_Since_ this has happened,"--
the death of his mother,--"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 to
struggle with difficulties. Thank God, I can unconnect myself with him,
and shall manage my father's moneys myself, if I take charge of Daddy,
which poor John has not hinted a wish at any future time to share with
me." Mary herself, when she was recovering, said that "she knew she must
go to Bethlehem for life; that one of her brothers would have it so; the
other would not wish it, but would be obliged to go with the stream."

At this time, reckoning up their several means of living, Charles Lamb and
his father had together an income of one hundred and seventy or one
hundred and eighty pounds; out of which, he says, "we can spare fifty or
sixty pounds at least for Mary whilst she stays in an asylum. If I and my
father and an old maid-servant can't live, and live comfortably, on one
hundred and thirty or one hundred and twenty pounds a year, we ought to
burn by slow fires. I almost would, so that Mary might not go into a
hospital." She was then recovering her health; had become serene and
cheerful; and Charles was passionately desirous that, after a short
residence in the lunatic establishment wherein she then was, she should
return home: "But the surviving members of her family" (these are Sir
Thomas Talfourd's words), "especially John, who enjoyed a fair income from
the South Sea House, opposed her discharge." Charles, however, ultimately
succeeded in his pious desire, upon entering into a solemn undertaking to
take care of his sister thereafter.

He provided a lodging for her at Hackney, and spent all his Sundays and
holidays with her. I never heard of John Lamb having contributed anything,
in money or otherwise, cowards the support of his deranged sister, or to
assist his young struggling brother.

Soon after this time Charles took his sister Mary to live with himself
entirely. Whenever the approach of one of her fits of insanity was
announced by some irritability or change of manner, he would take her,
under his arm, to Hoxton Asylum. It was very afflicting to encounter the
young brother and his sister walking together (weeping together) on this
painful errand; Mary herself, although sad, very conscious of the
necessity for temporary separation from her only friend. They used to
carry a strait jacket with them.

In the latter days of his father's life, Charles must have had an
uncomfortable home. "I go home at night overwearied, quite faint, and then
to cards with my father, who will not let me enjoy a meal in peace. After
repeated games at cribbage" (he is writing to Coleridge), "I have got my
father's leave to write; with difficulty got it: for when I expostulated
about playing any more, he replied, 'If you won't play with me, you might
as well not come home at all.' The argument was unanswerable, and I set to

Soon after this, the father, who at last had become entirely imbecile,
died; and the pension which he had received from Mr. Salt, the old
bencher, ceased. The aunt, who had been taken for a short time to the
house of a rich relation, but had been sent back, also died in the
following month. "My poor old aunt" (Chailes writes), "who was the kindest
creature to me when I was at school, and used to bring me good things;
when I, schoolboy-like, used to be ashamed to see her come, and open her
apron, and bring out her basin with some nice thing which she had saved
for me; the good old creature is now lying on her death-bed. She says,
poor thing, she is glad she has come home to die with me. I was always her
favorite." Thus Charles was left to his own poor resources (scarcely, if
at all, exceeding one hundred pounds a year); and these remained very
small for some considerable time. His writings were not calculated to
attract immediate popularity, and the increase of his salary at the India
House was slow. Even in 1809 (November), almost fifteen years later, the
addition of twenty pounds a year, which comes to him on the resignation of
a clerk in the India House, is very important, and is the subject of a
joyful remark by his sister Mary.

The impression made, in the first instance, on Charles Lamb, by the
terrible death of his mother, cannot be explained in any condensed manner.
His mind, short of insanity, seems to have been utterly upset. He had been
fond of poetry to excess; almost all his leisure hours seemed to have been
devoted to the books of poets and religious writers, to the composition of
poetry, and to criticising various writers in verse. But afterwards, in
his distress, he requests Coleridge to "mention nothing of poetry. I have
destroyed every vestige of past vanities of that kind. Never send me a
book, I charge you. I am wedded" (he adds) "to the fortunes of my sister
and my poor old father." At another time he writes, "On the dreadful day I
preserved a tranquillity, not of despair." Some persons coming into the
"house of misery," and persuading him to take some food, he says, "In an
agony of emotion, I found my way mechanically into the adjoining room, and
fell on my knees by the side of her coffin, asking forgiveness of Heaven,
and sometimes of her, for forgetting her so soon."

A few days later, he says to his friend, "You are the only correspondent,
and, I might add, the only friend I have in the world. I go nowhere and
see no acquaintance." At this time he gave away all Coleridge's letters,
burned all his own poetry, all the numerous poetical extracts he had made,
and the little journal of "My foolish passion, which I had a long time
kept." Subsequently, when he becomes better, he writes again to his
friend, "Correspondence with you has roused me a little from my lethargy,
and made me conscious of my existence."

Charles was now entirely alone with his sister. She was the only object
between him and God, and out of this misery and desolation sprang that
wonderful love between brother and sister, which has no parallel in
history. Neither would allow any stranger to partake of the close
affection that seemed to be solely the other's right. Doubts have existed
whether Charles Lamb ever gave up for the sake of Mary the one real
attachment of his youth. It has been considered somewhat probable that
Alice W. was an imaginary being--some Celia, or Campaspe, or Lindamira;
that she was in effect one of those visions which float over us when we
escape from childhood. But it may have been a real love, driven deeper
into the heart, and torn out for another love, more holy and as pure: for
he was capable of a grand sacrifice. No one will, perhaps, ever ascertain
the truth precisely. It must remain undiscovered--magnified by the mist of
uncertainty--like those Hesperian Gardens which inspired the veises of
poets, but are still surrounded by fable.

For my own part, I am persuaded that the attachment was real. He says that
his sister would often "lend an ear to his desponding, love-sick lay."
After he himself had been in a lunatic asylum, he writes to Coleridge,
that his "head ran upon him, in his madness, as much almost as on another
person, _who was the more immediate cause of my frenzy._" Later in the
year he burned the "little journal of his foolish passion;" and, when
writing to his friend on the subject of his love sonnets, he says, "It is
a passion of which I retain nothing." It is clear, I think, that it was
love for a real person, however transient it may have been. But the fact,
whether true or false, is inexpressibly unimportant. It could not add to
his stature: it could not diminish it. His whole life is acted; and in it
are numerous other things which substantially raise and honor him. The
ashes (if ashes there were) are cold. His struggles and pains, and hopes
and visions, are over. All lie, diffused, intermingled in that vast Space
which has No Name; like the winds and light of yesterday, which came and
gave pleasure for a moment, and now have changed and left us, forever.

In contrast with this apocryphal attachment stands out his deep and
unalterable love for his sister Mary. "God love her," he says; "may we two
never love each other less." They never did. Their affection continued
throughout life, without interruption; without a cloud, except such as
rose from the fluctuations of her health. It is said that a woman rises or
falls with the arm on which she leans. In this case, Mary Lamb at all
times had a safe support; an arm that never shook nor wavered, but kept
its elevation, faithful and firm throughout life.

It is difficult to explain fully the great love of Charles for his sister,
except in his own words. Whenever her name occurs in the correspondence,
the tone is always the same; always tender; without abatement, without
change. "I am a fool" (he writes) "bereft of her cooperation. I am used to
look up to her in the least and biggest perplexities. To say all that I
find her, would be more than I think anybody could possibly understand.
She is older, wiser, and better than I am; and all my wretched
imperfections I cover to myself, by resolutely thinking on her goodness.
She would share life and death with me." This (to anticipate) was written
in 1805, when she was suffering from one of her attacks of illness. After
she became better, he became better also, and opened his heart to the
pleasures and objects around him. It was open at all times to want, and
sickness, and wretchedness, and generally to the friendly voices and
homely realities that rose up and surrounded him in his daily walk through

During all his years he was encircled by groups of loving friends. There
were no others habitually round him. It is reported of some person that he
had not merit enough to create a foe. In Lamb's case, I suppose, he did
not possess that peculiar merit; for he lived and died without an enemy.


_Jem White.--Coleridge.--Lamb's Inspiration.--Early Letters.--Poem
published.--Charles Lloyd.--Liking for Burns, &c.--Quakerism.--Robert
Southey.--Southey and Coleridge.--Antijacobin.--Rosamond Gray.-George
Dyer.-Manning.--Mary's Illnesses.--Migrations.--Hester Savory._

After the pain arising from the deaths of his parents had somewhat
subsided, and his sorrow, exhausting itself in the usual manner, had given
way to calm, the story of Lamb becomes mainly an account of his
intercourse with society. He was surrounded, during his somewhat
monotonous career, by affectionate and admiring friends, who helped to
bring out his rare qualities, who stimulated his genius, and who are in
fact interwoven with his own history.

One of the earliest of these was his schoolfellow James (familiarly Jem)
White. This youth, who at the beginning of this period was his most
frequent companion, had great cleverness and abundant animal spirits,
under the influence of which he had produced a small volume, entitled
"Original Letters of Sir John Falstaff and his Friends." These letters
were ingenious imitations of the style and tone of thought of the
celebrated Shakespearian knight and his familiars. Beyond this merit they
are, perhaps, not sufficiently full of that enduring matter which is
intended for posterity. Nevertheless they contain some good and a few
excellent things. The letter of Davy (Justice Shallow's servant) giving an
account to his master of the death of poor Abram Slender is very touching.
Slender dies from mere love of sweet Ann Page; "Master Abram is dead;
gone, your worship. A' sang his soul and body quite away. A' turned like
the latter end of a lover's lute."

White's book was published in 1796; and one of the early copies was sold
at the Roxburgh sale for five guineas. Is it possible that the imitations
could have been mistaken for originals? Afterwards, the little book could
be picked up for eighteenpence; even for sixpence. It was always a great
favorite with Lamb. He reviewed it, after White's death, in the
_Examiner_. Lamb's friendship and sympathy in taste with White induced him
to attach greater value to this book than it was, perhaps, strictly
entitled to; he even passes some commendation on the frontispiece, which
is undoubtedly a very poor specimen of art. It is remarkable how Lamb, who
was able to enter so completely into Hogarth's sterling humor, could ever
have placed any value upon this counterfeit coin.

But Lamb had a great regard for Jem White. They had been boys together,
school-fellows in Christ's Hospital; and these very early friendships
seldom undergo any severe critical tests. At all events, Lamb thought
highly of White's book, which he used often to purchase and give away to
his friends, in justification of his own taste and to extend the fame of
the author. The copy which he gave me I have still. White, it seems, after
leaving Christ's Hospital as a scholar, took some office there; but
eventually left it, and became an agent for newspapers.

In one of the Elia essays, "The Praise of Chimney-sweepers," Lamb has set
forth some of the merits of his old friend. Undoubtedly Jem White must
have been a thoroughly kind-hearted man, since he could give a dinner
every year, on St. Bartholomew's day, to the little chimney-sweepers of
London; waiting on them, and cheering them up with his jokes and lively
talk; creating at least one happy day annually in each of their poor
lives. At the date of the essay (May, 1822) he had died. In Lamb's words,
"James White is extinct; and with him the suppers have long ceased. He
carried away with him half the fun of the world when he died--of my world,
at least. His old clients look for him among the pens; and, missing him,
reproach the altered feast of St. Bartholomew, and the glory of Smithfield
departed forever."

The great friend and Mentor, however, of Charles Lamb's youth, was (as has
frequently been asserted) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was a philosopher,
and who was considered, almost universally, to be the greater genius of
the two. It may be so; and there is little doubt that in mere capacity, in
the power of accumulating and disbursing ideas, and in the extent and
variety of his knowledge, he exceeded Lamb, and also most of his other
contemporaries; but the mind of Lamb was quite as original, and more
compact. The two friends were very dissimilar, the one wandering amongst
lofty, ill-defined objects, whilst the other "clung to the realities of
life." It is fortunately not necessary to enter into any comparative
estimate of these two remarkable persons. Each had his positive qualities
and peculiarities, by which he was distinguishable from other men; and by
these he may therefore be separately and more safely judged.

In his mature age (when I knew him) Coleridge had a full, round face, a
fine, broad forehead, rather thick lips, and strange, dreamy eyes, which
were often lighted up by eagerness, but wanted concentration, and were
adapted apparently for musing or speculation, rather than for precise or
rapid judgment. Yet he was very shrewd, as well as eloquent; was
(slightly) addicted to jesting; and would talk "at sight" upon any subject
with extreme fluency and much knowledge. "His white hair," in Lamb's
words, "shrouded a capacious brain."

Coleridge had browsed and expatiated over all the rich regions of
literature, at home and abroad. In youth his studies had, in the first
instance, been mainly in theology, he having selected the "Church" for his
profession. Although he was educated in the creed and rites of the Church
of England, he became for a time a Unitarian preacher, and scattered his
eloquent words over many human audiences. He was fond of questions of
logic, and of explaining his systems and opinions by means of diagrams;
but his projects were seldom consummated; and his talk (sometimes) and his
prose writing (often) were tedious and diffuse. His "Christabel," from
which he derived much of his fame, remained, after a lapse of more than
thirty years, incomplete at his death. He gained much reputation from the
"Ancient Mariner" (which is perhaps his best poem); but his translation of
Schiller's "Wallenstein" is the only achievement that shows him capable of
a great prolonged effort. Lamb used to boast that he supplied one line to
his friend in the fourth scene of that tragedy, where the description of
the Pagan deities occurs. In speaking of Satan, he is figured as "an old
man melancholy." "That was _my_ line," Lamb would say, exultingly. I
forget how it was originally written, except that it had not the extra (or
eleventh) syllable, which it now possesses.

There is some beautiful writing in this fourth scene, which may be read
after Mr. Wordsworth's equally beautiful reference to the Olympian gods
and goddesses, in the fourth book of the "Excursion," entitled
"Despondency Corrected." The last explains more completely than the other
the attributes of the deities specially named.

The most elaborate (perhaps impartial) sketches of Coleridge--his great
talents, combined with his great weaknesses--may be found in Hazlitt's
Essays, "The Spirit of the Age" and "My First Acquaintance with Poets;"
and in the eighth chapter of Mr. Carlyle's "Life of John Sterling."

In Lamb's letters it is easy to perceive that the writer soon became aware
of the foibles of his friend. "Cultivate simplicity, Coleridge," is his
admonition as early as 1796. In another place his remark is, "You have
been straining your faculties to bring together things infinitely distant
and unlike." Again, "I grieve from my very soul to observe you in your
plans of life veering about from this hope to the other, and settling
nowhere." Robert Southey, whose prose style was the perfection of
neatness, and who was intimate with Coleridge throughout his life, laments
that it is "extraordinary that he should write in so rambling and
inconclusive a manner;" his mind, which was undoubtedly very pliable and
subtle, "turning and winding, till you get weary of following his mazy

Charles Lamb, however, always sincerely admired and loved his old
schoolfellow, and grieved deeply when he died. The recollection of this
event, which happened many years afterwards (in 1834), never left Lamb
until his own death: he used perpetually to exclaim, "Coleridge is dead,
Coleridge is dead," in a low, musing, meditative voice. These exclamations
(addressed to no one) were, as Lamb was a most unaffected man, assuredly
involuntary, and showed that he could not get rid of the melancholy truth.

At this distance of time, many persons (judging by what he has left behind
him) wonder at the extent of admiration which possessed some of
Coleridge's contemporaries: Charles Lamb accorded to his genius something
scarcely short of absolute worship; Robert Southey considered his capacity
as exceeding that of almost all other writers; and Leigh Hunt, speaking of
Coleridge's personal appearance, says, "He had a mighty intellect put upon
a sensual body." Persons who were intimate with both have suggested that
even Wordsworth was indebted to him for some of his philosophy. As late as
1818, Lamb, when dedicating his works to him, says that Coleridge "first
kindled in him, if not the power, the love, of poetry, and beauty, and
kindness." He must be judged, however, by what he has actually _done_.

I am not here as the valuer of Coleridge's merits. I have no pretensions
and no desire to assume so delicate an office. His dreams and intentions
were undoubtedly good, and, had he been able to carry them out for the
benefit of the world, would have entitled himself to the name of a great
poet, a great genius. His readiness to discuss _all_ subjects, and his
ability to talk on most of them with ease, were marvellous. But he was
always infirm of purpose, and never did justice to his own capacity.

Amongst other men of talent who have sung Coleridge's praises should be
named Hazlitt, who knew him in 1798, and has enshrined him in the first of
his charming papers, entitled "Winterslow Essays." Hazlitt admits his
feebleness of purpose, but speaks of his genius, shining upon his own
(then) dumb, inarticulate nature, as the sun "upon the puddles of the
road." Coleridge at that time was a Unitarian minister, and had come to
preach, instead of the minister for the time being, at Shrewsbury. Hazlitt
rose before daylight (it was in January), and walked from Wem to
Shrewsbury, a distance of ten miles, to hear the "celebrated" man, who
combined the inspirations of poet and preacher in one person, enlighten a
Shropshire congregation. "Never, the longest day I have to live" (says
he), "shall I have such another walk as this cold, raw, comfortless one,
in the winter of 1798. When I got there [to the Chapel], the organ was
playing the one hundredth Psalm; and when it was done, Mr. Coleridge rose
and gave out his text--'And he went up into the mountain to pray, HIMSELF
ALONE.' The preacher then launched into his subject, like an eagle
dallying with the wind," &c. Coleridge was at that time only five and
twenty years of age; yet he seems even then to have been able to decide on
many writers in logic and rhetoric, philosophy and poetry. Of course he
was familiar with the works of his friend Wordsworth, of whom he cleverly
observed, in reply to the depreciating opinion of Mackintosh, "He strides
on so far before you, that he dwindles in the distance." [1]

It would be very interesting, were it practicable, to trace with certainty
the sources that supplied Charles Lamb's inspiration. But this must always
be impossible. For inspiration, in all cases, proceeds from many sources,
although there may be one influence predominating. It is clear that a
great Tragedy mainly determined his conduct through life, and operated,
therefore, materially on his thoughts as well as actions. The terrible
death of his mother concentrated and strengthened his mind, and prevented
its dissipation into trifling and ignoble thoughts. The regularity of the
India House labor upheld him. The extent and character of his acquaintance
also helped to determine the quality of the things which he produced. Had
he seen less, his mind might have become warped and rigid, as from want of
space. Had he seen too much, his thoughts might have been split and
exhausted upon too many points, and would thus have been so perplexed and
harassed, that the value of his productions, now known and current through
all classes, might scarcely have exceeded a negative quantity.

Then, in his companions he must be accounted fortunate. Coleridge helped
to unloose his mind from too precise notions: Southey gave it consistency
and correctness: Manning expanded his vision: Hazlitt gave him daring:
perhaps even poor George Dyer, like some unrecognized virtue, may have
kept alive and nourished the pity and tenderness which were originally
sown within him. We must leave the difficulty, as we must leave the great
problems of Nature, unexplained, and be content with what is self-evident
before us. We know, at all events, that he had an open heart, and that the
heart is a fountain which never fails.

The earliest productions of Lamb which have come down to us, namely,
verses, and criticism, and letters, are all in a grave and thoughtful
tone. The letters, at first, are on melancholy subjects, but afterwards
stray into criticism or into details of his readings, or an account of his
predilections for books and authors. At one or two and twenty, he had read
and formed opinions on Shakespeare, on Beaumont and Fletchcr, on
Massinger, Milton, Cowley, Isaac Walton, Burns, Collins, and others; some
of these, be it observed, lying much out of the ordinary course of a young
man's reading. He was also acquainted with the writings of Priestley and
Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards; for the first of whom he entertained the
deepest respect.

Lamb's verses were always good, steady, and firm, and void of those
magniloquent commonplaces which so clearly betray the immature writer.
They were at no time misty nor inconsequent, but contained proof that he
had reasoned out his idea. From the age of twenty-one to the age of fifty-
nine, when he died, he hated fine words and flourishes of rhetoric. His
imagination (not very lofty, perhaps) is to be discovered less in his
verse than in his prose humor, than in his letters and essays. In these it
was never trivial, but was always knit together by good sense, or softened
by tenderness. Real humor seldom makes its appearance in the first
literary ventures of young writers. Accordingly, symptoms of humor (which,
nevertheless, were not long delayed) are not to be discovered in Charles
Lamb's first letters or poems; the latter, when prepared for publication
in 1796, being especially grave. They are entitled "Poems by Charles Lamb
of the India House," and are inscribed to "Mary Anne Lamb, the author's
best friend and sister."

After some procrastination, the book containing them was published in
1797, conjointly with other verses by Coleridge and Charles Lloyd. "We
came into our first battle" (Charles says in his dedication to Coleridge,
in 1818) "under cover of the greater Ajax." In this volume Lloyd's verses
took precedence of Lamb's, at Coleridge's suggestion. This suggestion, the
reason of which is not very obvious, was very readily acceded to, Lamb
having a sincere regard for Lloyd, who (with a fine reasoning mind) was
subject to that sad mental disease which was common to both their
families. Lamb has addressed some verses to Lloyd at this date, which
indicate the great respect he felt towards his friend's intellect:--

"I'll think less meanly of myself, That Lloyd will sometimes think of me."

This joint volume was published without much success. In the same year
Lamb and his sister paid a visit to Coleridge, then living at Stowey, in
Somersetshire; after which Coleridge, for what purpose does not very
clearly appear, migrated to Germany. This happened in the year 1798.

Charles Lloyd, one of the triumvirate of 1797, was the son of a banker at
Birmingham. He was educated as a Quaker, but seceded from that body, and
afterwards became "perplexed in mind," and very desponding. He often took
up his residence in London, but did not mingle much with society. An
extreme melancholy darkened his latter days; and, as I believe, he died
insane. He published various poems, and translated, from the Italian into
English blank verse, the tragedies of Alfieri. His poems are distinguished
rather by a remarkable power of intellectual analysis than by the delicacy
or fervor of the verse.

The last time I saw Charles Lloyd was in company with Hazlitt. We heard
that he had taken lodgings at a working brazier's shop in Fetter Lane, and
we visited him there, and found him in bed, much depressed, but very
willing to discuss certain problems with Hazlitt, who carried on the
greater part of the conversation. We understood that he had selected these
noisy apartments in order that they might distract his mind from the fears
and melancholy thoughts which at that time distressed him.

It was soon after the publication of the joint volume that Charles
chronicles the different tastes of himself and his friend. "Burns," he
says, "is the god of my idolatry, as Bowles of yours." Posterity has
universally joined in the preference of Lamb. Burns, indeed, was always
one of his greatest favorites. He admired and sometimes quoted a line or
two from the last stanza of the "Lament for James, Earl of Glencairn,"
"The bridegroom may forget his bride," &c.; and I have more than once
heard him repeat, in a fond, tender voice, when the subject of poets or
poetry came under discussion, the following beautiful lines from the
Epistle to Simpson of Ochiltree:

    "The Muse, nae poet ever fand her,
    Till by himsel he learn'd to wander,
    Adown some trotting burn's meander
              An' no think't lang."

These he would press upon the attention of any one present (chanting them
aloud), and would bring down the volume of Burns, and open it, in order
that the page might be impressed on the hearer's memory. Sometimes--in a
way scarcely discernible--he would kiss the volume; as he would also a
book by Chapman or Sir Philip Sidney, or any other which he particularly
valued. I have seen him read out a passage from the Holy Dying and the Urn
Burial, and express in the same way his devotion and gratitude.

Lamb had been brought up a Unitarian; but he appears to have been
occasionally fluctuating in a matter as to which boys are not apt to
entertain very rigid opinions. At one time he longed to be with superior
thinkers. "I am always longing to be with men more excellent than myself,"
are his words. At another time he writes, "I have had thoughts of turning
Quaker lately." A visit, however, to one of the Quaker meetings in 1797,
decides him against such conversion: "This cured me of Quakerism. I love
it in the books of Penn and Woodman; but I detest the vanity of man,
thinking he speaks by the Spirit." A similar story is told of Coleridge.
Mr. Justice Coleridge's statement is, "He told us a humorous story of his
enthusiastic fondness for Quakers when at Cambridge, and his attending one
of their meetings, which had entirely cured him."

In 1797 Charles Lamb (who had been introduced to Southey by Coleridge two
years previously) accompanied Lloyd to a little village near Christchurch,
in Hampshire, where Southey was at that time reading. This little holiday
(of a fortnight) seems to have converted the acquaintanceship between
Southey and Lamb into something like intimacy. He then paid another visit
(which he had long meditated) to Coleridge, who was residing at Stowey.

It must have been shortly after this first visit (for Lamb went again to
Stowey, and met Wordsworth there in 1801) that Coleridge undertook the
office of minister to a Unitarian congregation at Shrewsbury, and preached
there, as detailed by Hazlitt in the manner already set forth. In 1798 he
took his departure for Germany, and this led to a familiar correspondence
between Lamb and Southey. The opening of Lamb's humor may probably be
referred to this friendship with a congenial humorist, and one, like
himself, taking a strong interest in worldly matters. Coleridge, between
whom and Lamb there was not much similarity of feeling, beyond their
common love for poetry and religious writings, was absent, and Lamb was
enticed by the kindred spirit of Southey into the accessible regions of
humor. These two friends never arrived at that close friendship which had
been forming between Coleridge and Lamb ever since their school-days at
Christ's Hospital. But they interchanged ideas on poetical and humorous
topics, and did not perplex themselves with anything speculative or

The first letter to Southey, which has been preserved (July, 1798),
announces that Lamb is ready to enter into any jocose contest. It includes
a list of queries to be defended by Coleridge at Leipsic or Gottingen; the
first of which was, "Whether God loves a lying angel better than a true
man?" Some of these queries, in all probability, had relation to
Coleridge's own infirmities: at all events, they were sent over to him in
reply to the benediction which he had thought proper to bequeath to
Charles on leaving England. "Poor Lamb, if he wants _any knowledge_ he may
apply to _me_." I must believe that this message was jocose, otherwise it
would have been insolent in the extreme degree. Coleridge's answers to the
queries above adverted to are not known; I believe that the proffered
knowledge was not afforded so readily as it was demanded.

It has been surmised that there was some interruption of the good feeling
between Coleridge and Lamb about this period of their lives; but I cannot
discern this in the letters that occurred between the two schoolfellows.
The message of Coleridge, and the questions in reply, occur in 1798; and
in May, 1800, there is a letter from Lamb to Coleridge, and subsequently
two others, in the same year, all couched in the old customary, friendly
tone. In addition to this, Charles Lamb, many years afterwards, said that
there had been an uninterrupted friendship of fifty years between them. In
one letter of Lamb's, indeed (17th March, 1800), it appears that his early
notions of Coleridge being a "very good man" had been traversed by some
doubts; but these "foolish impressions" were short-lived, and did not
apparently form any check to the continuance of their life-long

It is clear that Lamb's judgment was at this time becoming independent. In
one of his letters to Coleridge, when comparing his friend's merits with
those of Southey, he says, "Southey has no pretensions to vie with you in
the sublime of poetry, but he tells a plain story better." Even to Southey
he is equally candid. Writing to him on the subject of a volume of poems
which he had lately published, he remarks, "The Rose is the only insipid
poem in the volume; it has neither thorns nor sweetness."

In 1798 or 1799, Lamb contributed to the Annual Anthology (which Mr.
Cottle, a bookseller of Bristol, published), jointly with Coleridge and
Southey. In 1800 he was introduced by Coleridge to Godwin. It is clear
that Charles's intimacy with Coleridge, and Southey, and Lloyd, was not
productive of unmitigated pleasure. For the "Antijacobin" made its
appearance about this time, and denounced them all in a manner which in
the present day would itself be denounced as infamous. Some of these
gentlemen (Lamb's friends), in common with many others, augured at first
favorably of the actors in the great French Revolution, and this had
excited much displeasure in the Tory ranks. Accordingly they were
represented as being guilty of blasphemy and slander, and as being adorers
of a certain French revolutionist, named Lepaux, of whom Lamb, at all
events, was entirely ignorant. They wore, moreover, the subject of a
caricature by Gilray, in which Lamb and Lloyd were portrayed as toad and
frog. I cannot think, with Sir T. Talfourd, that all these libels were
excusable, on the ground of the "sportive wit" of the offending parties.
Lamb's writings had no reference whatever to political subjects; they
were, on the contrary, as the first writings of a young man generally are,
serious,--even religious. Referring to Coleridge, it is stated that he
"was dishonored at Cambridge for preaching Deism, and that he had since
left his native country, and left his poor children fatherless, and his
wife destitute:" _ex his disce his friends Lamb and Southey._ A scurrilous
libel of this stamp would now be rejected by all persons of good feeling
or good character. It would be spurned by a decent publication, or, if
published, would be consigned to the justice of a jury.

The little story of Rosamond Gray was wrought out of the artist's brain in
the year 1798, stimulated, as Lamb confesses, by the old ballad of "An old
woman clothed in gray," which he had been reading. It is defective as a
regular tale. It wants circumstance and probability, and is slenderly
provided with character. There is, moreover, no construction in the
narrative, and little or no progress in the events. Yet it is very
daintily told. The mind of the author wells out in the purest streams.
Having to deal with one foul incident, the tale is nevertheless without
speck or blemish. A virgin nymph, born of a lily, could not have unfolded
her thoughts more delicately. And, in spite of its improbability, Rosamond
Gray is very pathetic. It touches the sensitive points in young hearts;
and it was by no means without success--the author's first success. It
sold much better than his poems, and added "a few pounds" to his slender

George Dyer, once a pupil in Christ's Hospital, possessing a good
reputation as a classical scholar, and who had preceded Lamb in the
school, about this time came into the circle of his familiars. Dyer was
one of the simplest and most inoffensive men in the world: in his heart
there existed nothing but what was altogether pure and unsophisticated. He
seemed never to have outgrown the innocence of childhood; or rather he
appeared to be without those germs or first principles of evil which
sometimes begin to show themselves even in childhood itself. He was not
only without any of the dark passions himself, but he would not perceive
them in others. He looked only on the sunshine. Hazlitt, speaking of him
in his "Conversation of Authors," says, "He lives amongst the old authors,
if he does not enter much into their spirit. He handles the covers, and
turns over the pages, and is familiar with the names and dates. He is busy
and self-involved. He hangs like a film and cobweb upon letters, or is
like the dust upon the outside of knowledge, which should not too rudely
be brushed aside. He follows learning as its shadow, but as such he is
respectable. He browses on the husks and leaves of books." And Lamb says,
"The gods, by denying him the very faculty of discrimination, have
effectually cut off every seed of envy in his bosom."

Dyer was very thin and short in person, and was extremely near-sighted;
and his motions were often (apparently) spasmodic. His means of living
were very scanty; he subsisted mainly by supervising the press, being
employed for that purpose by booksellers when they were printing Greek or
Latin books. He dwelt in Clifford's Inn, "like a dove in an asp's nest,"
as Charles Lamb wittily says; and he might often have been seen with a
classical volume in his hand, and another in his pocket, walking slowly
along Fleet Street or its neighborhood, unconscious of gazers, cogitating
over some sentence, the correctness of which it was his duty to determine.
You might meet him murmuring to himself in a low voice, and apparently
tasting the flavor of the words.

Dyer's knowledge of the drama (which formed part of the subject of his
first publication) may be guessed, by his having read Shakespeare, "an
irregular genius," and having dipped into Rowe and Otway, but never having
heard of any other writers in that class. In absence of mind, he probably
exceeded every other living man. Lamb has set forth one instance (which I
know to be a fact) of Dyer's forgetfulness, in his "Oxford in the
Vacation;" and to this various others might be added, such as his emptying
his snuff-box into the teapot when he was preparing breakfast for a hungry
friend, &c. But it is scarcely worth while to chronicle minutely the
harmless foibles of this inoffensive old man. If I had to write his
epitaph, I should say that he was neither much respected nor at all hated;
too good to dislike, too inactive to excite great affection; and that he
was as simple as the daisy, which we think we admire, and daily tread
under foot.

In 1799 Charles Lamb visited Cambridge, and there, through the
introduction of Lloyd, made the important acquaintance of Mr. Thomas
Manning, then a mathematical tutor in the university. This soon grew into
a close intimacy. Charles readily perceived the intellectual value of
Manning, and seems to have eagerly sought his friendship, which, he says,
(December, 1799), will render the prospect of the approaching century very
pleasant. "That century must needs commence auspiciously for me" (he
adds), "that brings with it Manning's friendship as an earnest of its
after gifts." At first sight it appears strange that there should be
formed a close friendship between a youth, a beginner, or student in
poetry (no more), and a professor of science at one of our great seats of
learning. But these men had, I suppose, an intuitive perception of each
other's excellences. And there sometimes lie behind the outer projections
of character a thousand concealed shades which readily intermingle with
those of other people. There were amongst Lamb's tender thoughts, and
Manning's mathematical tendencies, certain neutral qualities which
assimilated with each other, and which eventually served to cement that
union between them which continued unshaken during the lives of both.

Lamb's correspondence assumed more character, and showed more critical
quality, after the intimacy with Manning began. His acquaintance with
Southey, in the first instance, had the effect of increasing the activity
of his mind. Previously to that time, his letters had consisted chiefly of
witticisms (clever indeed, but not of surpassing quality), religious
thoughts, reminiscences, &c., for the most part unadorned and simple.
Afterwards, especially after the Manning era, they exhibit far greater
weight of meaning, more fecundity, original thoughts, and brilliant
allusions; as if the imagination had begun to awaken and enrich the
understanding. Manning's solid, scientific mind had, without doubt, the
effect of arousing the sleeping vigor of Lamb's intellect.

A long correspondence took place between them. At first Lamb sent Manning
his opinions only: "Opinion is a species of property that I am always
desirous of sharing with my friends." Then he communicates the fact that
George Dyer, "that good-natured poet, is now more than nine months gone
with twin volumes of odes." Afterwards he tells him that he is reading
Burnet's History of his own Times--"full of scandal, as all true history

On Manning quitting England for China (1806), the letters become less
frequent; they continue, however, during his absence: one of them,
surpassing the Elia essay, to "Distant Correspondents," is very
remarkable; and when the Chinese traveller returned to London, he was very
often a guest at Lamb's residence. I have repeatedly met him there. His
countenance was that of an intelligent, steady, almost serious man. His
journey to the Celestial Empire had not been unfruitful of good; his talk
at all times being full of curious information, including much anecdote,
and some (not common) speculations on men and things. When he returned, he
brought with him a native of China, whom he took one evening to a ball in
London, where the foreigner from Shanghai, or Pekin, inquired with much
naivete as to the amount of money which his host had given to the dancers
for their evening's performance, and was persuaded with difficulty that
their exertions were entirely gratuitous.

Manning had a curious habit of bringing with him (in his waistcoat pocket)
some pods of the red pepper, whenever he expected to partake of a meal.
His original intention (as I understood) when he set out for China, was to
frame and publish a Chinese and English dictionary; yet--although he
brought over much material for the purpose--his purpose was never carried
into effect. Lamb had great love and admiration for him. In a letter to
Coleridge, in after years (1826), he says, "I am glad you esteem Manning;
though you see but his husk or shrine. He discloses not, save to select
worshippers, and will leave the world without any one hardly but me
knowing how stupendous a creature he is."

During these years Lamb's correspondence with Coleridge, Wordsworth,
Walter Wilson, and Manning (principally with Manning) goes on. It is
sometimes critical, sometimes jocose. He discusses the merits of various
authors, and more than once expresses his extreme distaste for didactic
writing. Now, he says, it is too directly instructive. Then he complains
that the knowledge, insignificant and vapid as it is, must come in the
_shape_ of knowledge. He could not obtain at Newberry's shop any of the
old "classics of the Nursery," he says; whilst "Mrs. Barbauld's and Mrs.
Trimmer's nonsense lay in piles about."

His own domestic affairs struggle on as usual; at one time calm and
pleasant, at another time troubled and uncomfortable, owing to the
frequent recurrence of his sister's malady. In general he bore these
changes with fortitude; I do not observe more than one occasion on which
(being then himself ill) his firmness seemed altogether to give way. In
1798, indeed, he had said, "I consider her perpetually on the brink of
madness." But in May, 1800, his old servant Hetty having died, and Mary
(sooner than usual) falling ill again, Charles was obliged to remove her
to an asylum; and was left in the house alone with Hetty's dead body. "My
heart is quite sick" (he cries), "and I don't know where to look for
relief. My head is very bad. I almost wish that Mary were dead." This was
the one solitary cry of anguish that he uttered during his long years of
anxiety and suffering. At all other times he bowed his head in silence,

Charles Lamb, with his sister, left Little Queen Street on or before 1800;
in which year he seems to have migrated, first to Chapel Street,
Pentonville; next to Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane; and finally to
No. 16 Mitre Court Buildings, in the Temple, "a pistol shot off Baron
Masere's;" and here he resided for about nine years.

It was during his stay at Pentonville that he "fell in love" with a young
Quaker, called Hester Savory. As (he confesses) "I have never spoken to
her during my life," it may be safely concluded that the attachment was
essentially Platonic. This was the young girl who inspired those verses,
now so widely known and admired. I remember them as being the first lines
which I ever saw of Charles Lamb's writing. I remember and admire them
still, for their natural, unaffected style; no pretence, no straining for
images and fancies flying too high above the subject, but dealing with
thoughts that were near his affections, in a fit and natural manner. The
conclusion of the poem, composed and sent after her death (in February,
1803) to Manning, who was then in Paris, is very sad and tender:--

    My sprightly neighbor, 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 will not go away,
                      A sweet forewarning.

[1] The most convincing evidence of Coleridge's powers is to be found in
his Table Talk. It appears from it that he was ready to discuss (almost)
any subject, and that he was capable of talking ably upon most, and
cleverly upon all.


_(Migrations.)--"John Woodvil."--Blackesmoor.--Wordsworth.--Rickman.--
Godwin.--Visit to the Lakes.--Morning Post.--Hazlitt.--Nelson.--Ode to
Tobacco.--Dramatic Specimens, &c.--Inner Temple Lane.--Reflector.--Hogarth
and Sir J. Reynolds.--Leigh Hunt.--Lamb, Hazlitt, and Hunt.--Russell
Street and Theatrical Friends._

It is not always easy to fix Charles Lamb's doings (writings or
migrations) to any precise date. The year may generally be ascertained;
but the day or month is often a matter of surmise only. Even the dates of
the letters are often derived from the postmarks, or are sometimes
conjectured from circumstances. [1] Occasionally the labors of a drama or
of lyric poems traverse several years, and are not to be referred to any
one definite period. Thus "John Woodvil" (his tragedy) was begun in 1799,
printed in 1800, and submitted to Mr. Kemble (then manager of Drury Lane
Theatre) in the Christmas of that year, but was not published until 1801.

After this tragedy had been in Mr. Kemble's hands for about a year, Lamb
naturally became urgent to hear his decision upon it. Upon applying for
this he found that his play was--lost! This was at once acknowledged, and
a "courteous request made for another copy, if I had one by me." Luckily,
another copy existed. The "first runnings" of a genius were not,
therefore, altogether lost, by having been cast, without a care, into the
dusty limbo of the theatre. The other copy was at once supplied, and the
play very speedily rejected. It was afterwards facetiously brought forward
in one of the early numbers of the Edinburgh Review, and there noticed as
a rude specimen of the earliest age of the drama, "older than AEschylus!"

Lamb met these accidents of fortune manfully, and did not abstain from
exercising his own Shandean humor thereon. It must be confessed that "John
Woodvil" is not a tragedy likely to bring much success to a playhouse. It
is such a drama as a young poet, full of love for the Elizabethan writers,
and without any knowledge of the requisitions of the stage, would be
likely to produce. There is no plot; little probability in the story;
which itself is not very scientifically developed. There are some pretty
lines, especially some which have often been the subject of quotation; but
there is not much merit in the characters of the drama, with the exception
of the heroine, who is a heroine of the "purest water." Lamb's friend
Southey, in writing to a correspondent, pronounces the following opinion:
"Lamb is printing his play, which will please you by the exquisite beauty
of its poetry, and provoke you by the exquisite silliness of its story."

In October, 1799, Lamb went to see the remains of the old house (Gilston)
in Hertfordshire, where his grandmother once lived, and the "old church
where the bones of my honored granddame lie." This visit was, in later
years, recorded in the charming paper entitled "Blakesmoor in H----shire."
He found that the house where he had spent his pleasant holidays, when a
little boy, had been demolished; it was, in fact, taken down for the
purpose of reconstruction; but out of the ruins he conjures up pleasant
ghosts, whom he restores and brings before a younger generation. There are
few of his papers in which the past years of his life are more
delightfully revived. The house had been "reduced to an antiquity." But we
go with him to the grass plat, were he used to read Cowley; to the
tapestried bedrooms, where the mythological people of Ovid used to stand
forth, half alive; even to "that haunted bedroom in which old Sarah Battle
died," and into which he "used to creep in a passion of fear." These
things are all touched with a delicate pen, mixed and incorporated with
tender reflections; for, "The solitude of childhood" (as he says) "is not
so much the mother of thought as the feeder of love." With him it was

Lamb became acquainted with Wordsworth when he visited Coleridge, in the
summer of 1800. At that time his old schoolfellow lived at Stowey, and the
greater poet was his neighbor. It is not satisfactorily shown in what
manner the poetry of Wordsworth first attracted the notice of Charles
Lamb, nor its first effect upon him. Perhaps the verse of Coleridge was
not a bad stepping-stone to that elevation which enabled Charles to look
into the interior of Wordsworth's mind. The two poets were not unlike in
some respects, although Coleridge seldom (except perhaps in the "Ancient
Mariner") ventured into the plain, downright phraseology of the other. It
is very soon apparent, however, that Lamb was able to admit Wordsworth's
great merits. In August, 1800 (just after the completion of his visit to
Stowey), he writes, "I would pay five and forty thousand carriages"
(parcel fares) "to read Wordsworth's tragedy. Pray give me an order on
Longman for the 'Lyrical Ballads.'" And in October, 1800, the two authors
must have been on familiar terms with each other; for in a letter
addressed by Lamb to Wordsworth, "Dear Wordsworth," it appears that the
latter had requested him to advance money for the purchase of books, to a
considerable amount. This was at a time when Lamb was "not plethorically
abounding in cash." The books required an outlay of eight pounds, and Lamb
had not the sum then in his possession. "It is a scurvy thing" (he writes)
"to cry, Give me the money first; and I am the first of the Lambs that has
done this for many centuries." Shortly afterwards Lamb sent his play to
Wordsworth, who (this was previous to 30 January, 1801) appears to have
invited Charles to visit him in Cumberland. Our humorist did not accept
this invitation, being doubtful whether he could "afford so desperate a
journey," and being (he says) "not at all romance-bit about Nature;" the
earth, and sea, and sky, being, "when all is said, but a house to live

It is not part of my task to adjust the claims of the various writers of
verse in this country to their stations in the Temple of Fame. If Keats
was by nature the most essentially a poet in the present century, there is
little doubt that Wordsworth has left his impress more broadly and more
permanently than any other of our later writers upon the literature of
England. There are barren, unpeopled wastes in the "Excursion," and in
some of the longer poems; but when his Genius stirs, we find ourselves in
rich places which have no parallel in any book since the death of Milton.
When his lyrical ballads first appeared, they encountered much opposition
and some contempt. Readers had not for many years been accustomed to drink
the waters of Helicon pure and undefiled; and Wordsworth (a prophet of the
true faith) had to gird up his loins, march into the desert, and prepare
for battle. He has, indeed, at last achieved a conquest; but a long course
of time, although sure of eventual success, elapsed before he could boast
of victory. The battle has been perilous. When the "Excursion" was
published (in 1814), Lamb wrote a review of it for "The Quarterly Review."
Whatever might have been the actual fitness of this performance, it seems
to have been hacked to pieces; more than a third of the substance cut
away; the warm expressions converted into cold ones; and (in Lamb's
phrase) "the eyes pulled out and the bleeding sockets left." This mangling
(or amendment, as I suppose it was considered) was the work of the late
Mr. Gifford. Charles had a great admiration for Wordsworth. It was short
of prostration, however. He states that the style of "Peter Bell" does not
satisfy him; but "'Hartleap Well' is the tale for me," are his words in

I have a vivid recollection of Wordsworth, who was a very grave man, with
strong features and a deep voice. I met him first at the chambers (they
were in the Temple) of Mr. Henry Crabb Robinson, one of the most amiable
of men. I was a young versifier, and Wordsworth was just emerging out of a
cloud of ignorant contumely into the sunrise of his fame. He was fond
(perhaps too fond) of reciting his own poetry before friends and
strangers. I was not attracted by his manner, which was almost too solemn,
but I was deeply impressed by some of the weighty notes in his voice, when
he was delivering out his oracles. I forget whether it was "Dion" or the
beautiful poem of "Laodamia" that he read; but I remembered the reading
long afterwards, as one recollects the roll of the spent thunder.

I met Wordsworth occasionally, afterwards, at Charles Lamb's, at Mr.
Rogers's, and elsewhere, and once he did me the honor to call upon me. I
remember that he had a very gentle aspect when he looked at my children.
He took the hand of my dear daughter (who died lately) in his hand, and
spoke some words to her, the recollection of which, perhaps, helped, with
other things, to incline her to poetry. Hazlitt says that Wordsworth's
face, notwithstanding his constitutional gravity, sometimes revealed
indications of dry humor. And once, at a morning visit, I heard him give
an account of his having breakfasted in company with Coleridge, and
allowed him to expatiate to the extent of his lungs. "How could you permit
him to go on and weary himself?" said Rogers; "why, you are to meet him at
dinner this evening." "Yes," replied Wordsworth; "I know that very well;
but we like to take the _sting_ out of him beforehand."

About a year after Lamb's first knowledge of Manning, his small stock of
friends was enlarged by the acquisition of Mr. John Rickman, one of the
clerks of the House of Commons. "He is a most pleasant hand" (writes
Lamb), "a fine rattling fellow, who has gone through life laughing at
solemn apes; himself hugely literate, from matter of fact, to Xenophon and
Plato: he can talk Greek with Porson, and nonsense with me." "He
understands you" (he adds) "the first time. You never need speak twice to
him. Fullest of matter, with least verbosity." A year or two afterwards,
when Rickman went to Ireland, Lamb wrote to Manning, "I have lost by his
going what seems to me I never can recover--_a finished man_. I almost
dare pronounce you never saw his equal. His memory will come to me as the
brazen serpent to the Israelites." Robert Southey also, when writing to
his brother (in 1804), says, "Coleridge and Rickman, with William Taylor,
make my Trinity of living greatness." A voluminous correspondence took
place between Southey and Rickman, ranging from 1800 to 1839, in the
course of which a variety of important subjects--namely, History,
Antiquities, Political Economy, Poor Law, and general Politics were
deliberately argued between them. From this it appears that Southey, whose
reading was very extensive, must have had great trust in the knowledge and
judgment of Rickman.

Lamb's acquaintance with Godwin, Holcroft, and Clarkson was formed about
this time. Godwin had been introduced to Lamb, by Coleridge, in 1800. The
first interview is made memorable by Godwin's opening question: "And pray,
Mr. Lamb, are you toad or frog?" This inquiry, having reference to
Gilray's offensive caricature, did not afford promise of a very cheerful
intimacy. Lamb, however, who accorded great respect to Godwin's intellect,
did not resent it, but received his approaches favorably, and indeed
entertained him at breakfast the next morning. The acquaintance afterwards
expanded into familiarity; but I never observed the appearance of any warm
friendship between them. Godwin's precision and extreme coldness of manner
(perhaps of disposition) prevented this; and Lamb was able, through all
his admiration of the other's power, to discern those points in his
character which were obnoxious to his own. Some years previously, Charles
had entertained much dislike to the philosopher's opinions, and referred
to him as "that Godwin;" and afterwards, when eulogizing the quick and
fine intellect of Rickman, he says, "He does not want explanation,
translations, limitations, as Godwin does, when you make an assertion."

When Godwin published his "Essay on Sepulchres," wherein he professed to
erect a wooden slab and a white cross, to be _perpetually_ renewed to the
end of time ("to survive the fall of empires," as Miss Lamb says), in
order to distinguish the site of every great man's grave, Lamb speaks of
the project in these terms: "Godwin has written a pretty absurd book about
Sepulchres. He was affronted because I told him that it was better than
Hervey, but not so good as Sir Thomas Browne." Sufficient intimacy,
however, had arisen between them to induce Lamb to write a facetious
epilogue to Godwin's tragedy of "Antonio; or, the Soldier's Return." This
came out in 1800, and was very speedily damned; although Lamb said that
"it had one fine line;" which indeed he repeated occasionally. Godwin bore
this failure, it must be admitted, without being depressed by it, although
he was a very poor man, and although he was "five hundred pounds _ideal_
money out of pocket by the failure."

In 1802 Lamb visited Coleridge, who was then living near Keswick, in
Cumberland. For the first time in his life he beheld lakes and mountains;
and the effect upon him was startling and unexpected. It was much like the
impression made by the first sight of the Alps upon Leigh Hunt, who had
theretofore always maintained that those merely great heaps of earth ought
to have no effect upon a properly constituted mind; but he freely
confessed afterwards, that he had been mistaken. Lamb had been more than
once invited to visit the romantic Lake country. He had no desire to
inspect the Ural chain, where the malachite is hidden, nor the silver
regions of Potosi; but he was all at once affected by a desire of
"visiting remote regions." It was a sudden irritability, which could only
be quieted by travel.

Charles and his sister therefore went, without giving any notice to
Coleridge, who, however, received them very kindly, and gave up all his
time in order to show them the wonders of the neighborhood. The visitors
arrived there in a "gorgeous sunset" (the only one that Lamb saw during
his stay in the country), and thought that they had got "into fairy-land."
"We entered Coleridge's study" (he writes to Manning, shortly afterwards)
"just in the dusk, when the mountains were all dark. Such an impression I
never received from objects of sight, nor do I suppose I ever can again.
Glorious creatures, Skiddaw, &c. I shall never forget how ye lay about
that night, like an intrenchment; gone to bed, as it seemed, for the

They went to Coleridge's house, in which "he had a large, antique, ill-
shaped room, with an old organ, never played upon, an Aeolian harp, and
shelves of scattered folios," and remained there three weeks, visiting
Wordsworth's cottage, he himself being absent, and meeting the Clarksons
("good, hospitable people"). They tarried there one night, and met Lloyd.
They clambered up to the top of Skiddaw, "and went to Grassmere,
Ambleside, Ullswater, and over the middle of Helvellyn." Coleridge then
dwelt upon a small hill by the side of Keswick, quite "enveloped on all
sides by a net of mountains." On his return to London, Lamb wrote to his
late host, saying, "I feel I shall remember your mountains to the last day
of my life. They haunt me perpetually. I am like a man who has been
falling in love unknown to himself, which he finds out when he leaves the
lady." He soon subsided, however, into his old natural metropolitan

Wordsworth was not in the Lake country when Lamb visited Coleridge; but
after his return the great poet visited Charles in London, passed some
time there, and then departed for Yorkshire, where he went in order to be

At this time Lamb contributed (generally facetiae) to various newspapers,
now forgotten. One of them, it was said jocosely, had "two and twenty
readers, including the printer, the pressman, and the devil." But he was
still very poor; so poor that Coleridge offered to supply him with prose
translations from the German, in order that he might versify them for the
"Morning Post," and thus obtain a little money. In one of his letters Lamb
says, "If I got or could but get fifty pounds a year only, in addition to
what I have, I should live in affluence."

About the time that he is writing this, he is recommending Chapman's
"Homer" to Coleridge; is refusing to admit Coleridge's _bona fide_ debt to
himself of fifteen pounds; is composing Latin letters; and in other
respects deporting himself like a "gentleman who lives at home at ease;"
not like a poor clerk, obliged to husband his small means, and to deny
himself the cheap luxury of books that he had long coveted. "Do you
remember" (his sister says to him, in the Essay on "Old China") "the brown
suit that grew so threadbare, all because of that folio of Beaumont and
Fletcher that you dragged home late at night from Barker's, in Covent
Garden; when you set off near ten o'clock, on Saturday night, from
Islington, fearing you should be too late; and when you lugged it home,
wishing it was twice as cumbersome," &c.

These realities of poverty, very imperfectly covered over by words of
fiction, are very touching. It is deeply interesting, that Essay, where
the rare enjoyments of a poor scholar are brought into contrast and relief
with the indifference that grows upon him when his increased income
enables him to acquire any objects he pleases. Those things are no longer
distinguished as "enjoyments" which are not purchased by a sacrifice. "A
purchase is but a purchase now. Formerly it used to be a triumph. A thing
was worth buying when we felt the money that we paid for it."

(1804.) The intimacy of that extraordinary man, William Hazlitt, was the
great gain of Lamb at this period of his life. If Lamb's youngest and
tenderest reverence was given to Coleridge, Hazlitt's intellect must also
have commanded his later permanent respect. Without the imagination and
extreme facility of Coleridge, he had almost as much subtlety and far more
steadfastness of mind. Perhaps this steadfastness remained sometimes until
it took the color of obstinacy; but, as in the case of his constancy to
the first Napoleon, it was obstinacy riveted and made firm by some
concurring respect. I do not know that Hazlitt had the more affectionate
nature of the two; but assuredly he was less tossed about and his sight
less obscured by floating fancies and vast changing projects (_muscae
volitantes_) than the other. To the one are ascribed fierce and envious
passions; coarse thoughts and habits--(he has indeed been crowned by
defamation); whilst to Coleridge have been awarded reputation and glory,
and praise from a thousand tongues. To secure justice we must wait for
unbiassed posterity.

I meet, at present, with few persons who recollect much of Hazlitt. Some
profess to have heard nothing of him except his prejudices and violence;
but his prejudices were few, and his violence (if violence he had) was of
very rare occurrence. He was extremely patient, indeed, although earnest
when discussing points in politics, respecting which he held very strong
and decided opinions. But he circulated his thoughts on many other
subjects, whereon he ought not to have excited offence or opposition. He
wrote (and he wrote well) upon many things lying far beyond the limits of
politics. To use his own words, "I have at least glanced over a number of
subjects--painting, poetry, prose, plays, politics, parliamentary
speakers, metaphysical lore, books, men, and things." This list, extensive
as it is, does not specify very precisely all the subjects on which he
wrote. His thoughts range over the literature of Elizabeth and James's
times, and of the time of Charles II.; over a large portion of modern
literature; over the distinguishing character of men, their peculiarities
of mind and manners; over the wonders of poetry, the subtleties of
metaphysics, and the luminous regions of art. In painting, his criticisms
(it is prettily said by Leigh Hunt) cast a light upon the subject like the
glory reflected "from a painted window." I myself have, in my library,
eighteen volumes of Hazlitt's works, and I do not possess all that he
published. Besides being an original thinker, Hazlitt excelled in
conversation. He was, moreover, a very temperate liver: yet his enemies
proclaimed to the world that he was wanting even in sobriety. During the
thirteen years that I knew him intimately, and (at certain seasons) saw
him almost every day, I know that he drank nothing stronger than water;
except tea, indeed, in which he indulged in the morning. Had he been as
temperate in his political views as in his cups, he would have escaped the
slander that pursued him through life.

The great intimacy between these two distinguished writers, Charles Lamb
and William Hazlitt (for they had known each other before), seems to have
commenced in a singular manner. They were one day at Godwin's, when "a
fierce dispute was going on between Holcroft and Coleridge, as to which
was best, 'Man as he was, or Man as he is to be.' 'Give me,' says Lamb,
'man as he is _not_ to be.'" "This was the beginning" (Hazlitt says,) "of
a friendship which, I believe, still continues." Hazlitt married in 1805,
and his wife soon became familiar with Mary Lamb. Indeed, Charles and his
sister more than once visited the Hazlitts, who at that time lived at
Winterslow, near Salisbury Plain, and enjoyed their visits greatly,
walking from eight to twenty miles a day, and seeing Wilton, Stonehenge,
and the other (to them unaccustomed) sights of the country. "The quiet,
lazy, delicious month" passed there is referred to in one of Miss Lamb's
pleasant letters. And the acquaintance soon deepened into friendship.
Whatever good will was exhibited by Hazlitt (and there was much) is repaid
by Lamb in his letter to Southey, published in the "London Magazine"
(October, 1823), wherein he places on record his pride and admiration of
his friend. "So far from being ashamed of the intimacy" (he says), "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."

Lamb's respect for men and things did not depend on repute. His fondness
for old books seldom (never, perhaps, except in the single case of the
Duchess of Newcastle) deluded him into a respect for old books which were
without merit. He required that excellence should be combined with
antiquity. A great name was generally to him simply a great name; no more.
If it had lasted through centuries, indeed, as in the case of Michael
Angelo, then he admitted that "a great name implied greatness." He did not
think that greatness lay in the "thews and sinews," or in the bulk alone.
When Nelson was walking on the quay at Yarmouth, the mob cried out in
derision, "What! make that little fellow a captain!" Lamb thought
otherwise; and in regret for the death of that great seaman, he says, "I
have followed him ever since I saw him walking in Pall Mall, _looking just
as a hero should look_" (_i.e._, simply). "He was the only pretence of a
great man we had." The large stage blusterer and ostentatious drawcansir
were never, in Lamb's estimation, models for heroes. In the case of the
first Napoleon also, he writes, "He is a fine fellow, as my barber says;
and I should not mind standing bareheaded at his table to do him service
in his fall." This was in August, 1815.

The famous "Ode to Tobacco" was written in 1805, and the pretty stories
founded on the plays of Shakespeare were composed or translated about the
year 1806; Lamb taking the tragic, and his sister the other share of the
version. These tales were to produce about sixty pounds; to them a sum
which was most important, for he and Mary at that time hailed the addition
of twenty pounds to his salary (on the retirement of an elder clerk) as a
grand addition to their comforts.

Charles was at this period (February, 1806) at work upon a farce, to be
called "Mr. H.;" from which he says, "if it has a 'good run' I shall get
two hundred pounds, and I hope one hundred pounds for the copyright." "Mr.
H." (which rested solely upon the absurdity of a name, which after all was
not irresistibly absurd) was accepted at the theatre, but unfortunately it
had _not_ "a good run." It failed, not quite undeservedly perhaps, for
(although it has since had some success in America) there was not much
probability of its prosperity in London. It was acted once (10th December,
1806), and was announced for repetition on the following evening, but was
withdrawn. Lamb's courage and good humor did not fail. He joked about it
to Wordsworth, said that he had many fears about it, and admitted that
"John Bull required solider fare than a bare letter." As he says, in his
letter to the poet, "a hundred hisses (hang the word, I write it like
kisses) outweigh a thousand claps. The former come more directly from the
heart. Well" (he adds), "it is withdrawn, and there's an end."

In 1807 were published "Specimens of Dramatic Poets contemporary with
Shakespeare;" and these made Lamb known as a man conversant with our old
English literature, and helped mainly to direct the taste of the public to
those fine writers. The book brought repute (perhaps a little money) to
him. Soon afterwards he published "The Adventures of Ulysses," which was
intended to be an introduction to the reading of "Telemachus," always a
popular book. These "adventures" were derived from Chapman's "Translation
of Homer," of which Lamb says, "Chapman is divine; and my abridgment has
not, I hope, quite emptied him of his divinity."

In or about 1808 Miss Lamb's pretty little stories called "Mrs.
Leicester's School" (to which Charles contributed three tales) were
published; and soon afterwards a small book entitled "Poetry for
Children," being a joint publication by brother and sister, came out. "It
was done by me and Mary in the last six months" (January, 1809). It does
not appear to what extent, if at all, it added to the poor clerk's means.

In the same year (as Miss Lamb writes in December, 1808), Charles was
invited by Tom Sheridan to write some scenes in a speaking Pantomime; the
other parts of which (the eloquence not of words) had been already
manufactured by Tom and his more celebrated father, Richard Brinsley. Lamb
and Tom Sheridan had been, it seems, communicative over a bottle of
claret, when an agreement for the above purpose was entered into between
them. This was subsequently carried into effect, and a drama was composed.
This drama, still extant in the British Museum, in Lamb's own writing,
appears to be a species of comic opera, the scene of which is laid in
Gibraltar, but is without a name. I have not seen it, but speak upon the
report of others.

In 1809 Lamb moved once more into the Temple, now to the top story of No.
4 Inner Temple Lane, "where the household gods are slow to come, but where
I mean to live and die" (he says). From this place (since pulled down and
rebuilt) he writes to Manning, who is in China, "Come, and bring any of
your friends the Mandarins with you. 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." He sends Manning some of his
little books, to give him "some idea of European literature." It is in
this letter (January, 1810) that he speaks of Braham and his singing,
which I have elsewhere alluded to; of Kate with nine stars *********
("though she is but one"); of his book (for children) "on titles of
honor," exemplifying the eleven gradations, by which Mr. C. Lamb rises in
succession to be Baron, Marquis, Duke, and Emperor Lamb, and finally Pope
Innocent, and other lively matters fit to solace an English mathematician
self-banished to China.

In July, 1810, an abstinence from all spirituous liquors took place. Lamb
says that his sister has "taken to water like a hungry otter," whilst he
"limps after her" for virtue's sake; but he is "full of cramps and
rheumatism, and cold internally, so that fire don't warm him." It is
scarcely necessary to state that the period of entire abstinence was very

A quarterly magazine, called "The Reflector," was published in the autumn
of 1810, and contained Essays by Charles Lamb and several other writers.
Amongst these are some of the best of Lamb's earlier writings--namely, the
paper on Hogarth and that on the Tragedies of Shakespeare. It is singular
that these two Essays, which are as fine as anything of a similar nature
in English criticism, should have been almost unnoticed (undiscovered,
except by literary friends) until the year 1818, when Lamb's works were
collected and published. The grand passage on "Lear" has caused the Essay
on the Shakespeare Tragedies to be well known. Less known is the Essay on
Hogarth, although it is more elaborate and critical; the labor being quite
necessary in this case, as the pretensions of Hogarth to the grand style
had been denounced by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

In affluence of genius, in variety and exuberance of thought, there surely
can exist little comparison between Reynolds and Hogarth. Reynolds was,
indeed, the finest painter, especially the most superb colorist, of the
English school. But Hogarth was the greatest inventor,--the greatest
discoverer of character,--in the English or any other school. As a painter
of manners he is unapproached. In a kindred walk, he traversed all the
passions from the lowest mirth to the profoundest melancholy, possessing
the tragic element in the most eminent degree. And if grandeur can exist--
as I presume it can--in beings who have neither costume nor rank to set
off their qualities, then some of the characters of Hogarth in essential
grandeur are far beyond the conventional figures of many other artists.
Pain, and joy, and poverty, and human daring are not to be circumscribed
by dress and fashion. Their seat is deeper (in the soul), and is
altogether independent of such trivial accretions. In point of expression,
I never saw the face of the madman (in the "Rake's Progress") exceeded in
any picture, ancient or modern. "It is a face" (Lamb says) "that no one
that has seen can easily forget." It is, as he argues, human suffering
stretched to its utmost endurance. I cannot forbear directing the
attention of the reader to Lamb's bold and excellent defence of Hogarth.
He will like both painter and author, I think, better than before. I have,
indeed, been in company where young men, professing to be painters, spoke
slightingly of Hogarth. To this I might have replied that Hogarth did not
paint for the applause of tyros in art, but--for the world!

The "Reflector" was edited by an old Christ's Hospital boy, Mr. Leigh
Hunt, who subsequently became, and during their joint lives remained, one
of Lamb's most familiar friends. It was a quarterly magazine, and
received, of course, the contributions of various writers; amongst whom
were Mr. Barnes (of the "Times"), Barron Field, Dr. Aikin, Mr. Landseer
(the elder), Charles Lamb, Octavius Gilchrist, Mitchell (the translator of
Aristophanes), and Leigh Hunt himself. I do not observe Lamb's name
appended to any of the articles in the first volume; but the second
comprises the Essays on Hogarth and on Burial Societies, together with a
paper on the Custom of Hissing at the Theatres, under the signature of
"Semel Damnatus." There is a good deal of humor in this paper (which has
not been republished, I believe). It professes to come from one of a club
of condemned authors, no person being admissible as a member until he had
been unequivocally damned.

I observe that in the letters, &c., of Lamb, which were published in 1841,
and copiously commented on by Sir Thomas N. Talfourd (the editor), there
is not much beyond a bare mention of Leigh Hunt's name, and no letter from
Charles Lamb to Mr. Hunt is published. It is now too late to remedy this
last defect, my recent endeavors to obtain such letters having resulted in
disappointment: otherwise I should have been very glad to record the
extent of Lamb's liking for a poor and able man, whom I knew well for at
least forty years. I know that at one time Lamb valued him, and that he
always thought highly of his intellect, as indeed he has testified in his
famous remonstrance to Southey. And in Mr. Hunt's autobiography I find
abundant evidence of his admiration for Lamb, in a generous eulogy upon

Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, and Leigh Hunt, formed a remarkable trio of
men, each of whom was decidedly different from the others. Only one of
them (Hunt) cared much for praise. Hazlitt's sole ambition was to sell his
essays, which he rated scarcely beyond their marketable value; and Lamb
saw enough of the manner in which praise and censure were at that time
distributed, to place any high value on immediate success. Of posterity
neither of them thought. Leigh Hunt, from temperament, was more alive to
pleasant influences (sunshine, freedom for work, rural walks,
complimentary words) than the others. Hazlitt cared little for these
things; a fierce argument or a well-contested game at rackets was more to
his taste; whilst Lamb's pleasures (except, perhaps, from his pipe) lay
amongst the books of the old English writers. His soul delighted in
communion with ancient generations, more especially with men who had been
unjustly forgotten. Hazlitt's mind attached itself to abstract subjects;
Lamb's was more practical, and embraced men. Hunt was somewhat indifferent
to persons as well as to things, except in the cases of Shelley and Keats,
and his own family; yet he liked poetry and poetical subjects. Hazlitt
(who was ordinarily very shy) was the best talker of the three. Lamb said
the most pithy and brilliant things. Hunt displayed the most ingenuity.
All three sympathized often with the same persons or the same books; and
this, no doubt, cemented the intimacy that existed between them for so
many years. Moreover, each of them understood the others, and placed just
value on their objections when any difference of opinion (not infrequent)
arose between them. Without being debaters, they were accomplished
talkers. They did not argue for the sake of conquest, but to strip off the
mists and perplexities which sometimes obscure truth. These men--who lived
long ago--had a great share of my regard. They were all slandered, chiefly
by men who knew little of them, and nothing of their good qualities; or by
men who saw them only through the mist of political or religious
animosity. Perhaps it was partly for this reason that they came nearer to
my heart.

All the three men, Lamb, Hazlitt, and Hunt, were throughout their lives
Unitarians, as was also George Dyer; Coleridge was a Unitarian preacher in
his youth, having seceded from the Church of England; to which, however,
he returned, and was in his latter years a strenuous supporter of the
national faith. George Dyer once sent a pamphlet to convert Charles to
Unitarianism. "Dear blundering soul" (Lamb said), "why, I am as old a One
Goddite as himself." To Southey Lamb writes, "Being, as you know, not
quite a Churchman, I felt a jealousy at the Church taking to herself the
whole deserts of Christianity." His great, and indeed infinite reverence,
nevertheless, for Christ is shown in his own Christian virtues and in
constant expressions of reverence. In Hazlitt's paper of "Persons one
would wish to have seen," Lamb is made to refer to Jesus Christ as he "who
once put on a semblance of mortality," and to say, "If he were to come
into the room, we should all fall down and kiss the hem of his garment." I
do not venture to comment on these delicate matters, where men like
Hazlitt, and Lamb, and Coleridge (the latter for a short time only) have
entertained opinions which differ from those of the generality of their

During these years, Mary Lamb's illnesses were frequent, as usual. Her
relapses were not dependent on the seasons; they came in hot summers and
with the freezing winters. The only remedy seems to have been extreme
quiet when any slight symptom of uneasiness was apparent. Charles (poor
fellow) had to live, day and night, in the society of a person who was--
mad! If any exciting talk occurred, he had to dismiss his friend with a
whisper. If any stupor or extraordinary silence was observed, then he had
to rouse her instantly. He has been seen to take the kettle from the fire
and place it for a moment on her head-dress, in order to startle her into
recollection. He lived in a state of constant anxiety;--and there was no

Not to neglect Charles Lamb's migrations, it should be noted that he moved
his residence from Inner Temple Lane ("where he meant to live and die")
into Russell Street, Covent Garden, in the latter part of the year 1817.
When there, he became personally acquainted with several members of the
theatrical profession; amongst others, with Munden and Miss Kelly, for
both of whom he entertained the highest admiration. One of the (Elia)
Essays is written to celebrate Munden's histrionic talent; and in his
letters he speaks of "Fanny Kelly's divine plain face." The Barbara S. of
the second (or last) series of essays is, in fact, Miss Kelly herself. All
his friends knew that he was greatly attached to her.

He also became acquainted with Miss Burrell--afterwards Mrs. Gould--but
who, he says, "remained uncoined." Subsequently he was introduced to
Liston and Elliston, each of whom received tokens of his liking. The first
was the subject of an amusing fictitious biography. In Lamb's words, it
was "a lying life of Liston," uncontaminated by a particle of truth.
Munden, he says, had faces innumerable; Liston had only one; "but what a
face!" he adds, admitting it to be beyond all vain description. Perhaps
this subject of universal laughter and admiration never received such a
compliment, except from Hazlitt, who, after commenting on Hogarth's
excellences, his invention, his character, his satire, &c., concludes by
saying, "I have never seen anything in the expression of comic humor equal
to Hogarth's humor, except Liston's face."

In the course of time, official labor becomes tiresome, and the India
House clerk grows splenetic. He complains sadly of his work. Even the
incursions of his familiars annoy him, although it annoys him more when
they go away. In the midst of this trouble his works are collected and
published; and he emerges at once from the obscure shades of Leadenhall
Street into the full blaze of public notice. He wakes from dullness and
discontent, and "finds himself famous."

[1] As Lamb's changes of residence were frequent, it may be convenient to
chronicle them in order, in this place, although the precise date of his
moving from one to another can scarcely be specified in a single instance.
1775, Charles Lamb, born in Crown Office Row, Temple. 1795, lives at No. 7
Little Queen Street, Holborn. 1800 (early), lives at No. 45 Chapel Street,
Pentonville. Same year, lives in Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane.
Same year, removes to No. 16 Mitre Court Buildings, Temple. 1809, removes
to No. 4 Inner Temple Lane. 1817, removes to Russell Street, Covent
Garden. 1823, removes to Colebrook Row, Islington. 1826, removes to
Enfield. 1829, removes into lodgings in Enfield. 1830, lodges in
Southampton Buildings. 1833, lives at Mrs. Walden's, in Church Street,
Edmonton; where he dies on 27th December, 1834.


_My Recollections.--Russell Street.--Personal Appearance.--Manner.--
Tendency of Mind.--Prejudices.--Alleged Excesses.--Mode of Life.--Love of
Smoking.--His Lodgings.--His Sister.--Costume.--Reading aloud.--Tastes and
Opinions.--London.--Love of Books.--Charity.--Wednesday Parties.--His
Companions.--Epitaph upon them._

In the year 1817 or 1818 I first became personally acquainted with Charles

This was about the time of his removal from the Temple. It was in the
course of the year 1818 that his works had been first collected and
published. They came upon the world by surprise; scarcely any one at that
time being aware that a fine genius and humorist existed, within the dull
shades of London, whose quality very few of the critics had assayed, and
none of them had commended. He was thus thrown (waif-like) amongst the
great body of the people; was at once estimated, and soon rose into

Persons who had been in the habit of traversing Covent Garden at that time
(seven and forty years ago) might, by extending their walk a few yards
into Russell Street, have noted a small, spare man, clothed in black, who
went out every morning and returned every afternoon, as regularly as the
hands of the clock moved towards certain hours. You could not mistake him.
He was somewhat stiff in his manner, and almost clerical in dress; which
indicated much wear. He had a long, melancholy face, with keen,
penetrating eyes; and he walked, with a short, resolute step, city-wards.
He looked no one in the face for more than a moment, yet contrived to see
everything as he went on. No one who ever studied the human features could
pass him by without recollecting his countenance: it was full of
sensibility, and it came upon you like a new thought, which you could not
help dwelling upon afterwards; it gave rise to meditation, and did you
good. This small, half-clerical man was--Charles Lamb.

I had known him for a short time previously to 1818, having been
introduced to him at Mr. Leigh Hunt's house, where I enjoyed his company
once or twice over agreeable suppers; but I knew him slightly only, and
did not see much of him until he and his sister went to occupy the
lodgings in Russell Street, where he invited me to come and see him. They
lived in the corner house adjoining Bow Street. This house belonged, at
that time, to an ironmonger (or brazier), and was comfortable and clean,--
and a little noisy.

Charles Lamb was about forty years of age when I first saw him; and I knew
him intimately for the greater part of twenty years. Small and spare in
person, and with small legs ("immaterial legs" Hood called them), he had a
dark complexion, dark, curling hair, almost black, and a grave look,
lightening up occasionally, and capable of sudden merriment. His laugh was
seldom excited by jokes merely ludicrous; it was never spiteful; and his
quiet smile was sometimes inexpressibly sweet: perhaps it had a touch of
sadness in it. His mouth was well shaped; his lip tremulous with
expression; his brown eyes were quick, restless, and glittering; and he
had a grand head, full of thought. Leigh Hunt said that "he had a head
worthy of Aristotle." Hazlitt calls it "a fine Titian head, full of dumb
eloquence." I knew that, before he had attained the age of twenty years,
he had to make his way in the world, and that his lines had not been cast
in pleasant places. I had heard, indeed, that his family had at one time
consisted of a father and mother and an insane sister; all helpless and
poor, and all huddled together in a small lodging, scarcely large enough
to admit of their moving about without restraint. It is difficult to
imagine a more disheartening youth. Nevertheless, out of this desert, in
which no hope was visible, he rose up eventually a cheerful man (cheerful
when his days were not clouded by his sister's illness); a charming
companion, full of pleasant and gentle fancies, and the finest humorist of
his age.

Although sometimes strange in manner, he was thoroughly unaffected; in
serious matters thoroughly sincere. He was, indeed (as he confesses),
terribly shy; diffident, not awkward in manner; with occasionally nervous,
twitching motions that betrayed this infirmity. He dreaded the criticisms
of servants far more than the observations of their masters. To undergo
the scrutiny of the first, as he said to me, when we were going to
breakfast with Mr. Rogers one morning, was "terrible." His speech was
brief and pithy; not too often humorous; never sententious nor didactic.
Although he sometimes talked whilst walking up and down the room (at which
time he seldom looked at the person with whom he was talking), he very
often spoke as if impelled by the necessity of speaking--suddenly,
precipitately. If he could have spoken very easily, he might possibly have
uttered long sentences, expositions, or orations; such as some of his
friends indulged in, to the utter confusion of their hearers.

But he knew the value of silence; and he knew that even truth may be
damaged by too many words. When he did speak, his words had a flavor in
them beyond any that I have heard elsewhere. His conversation dwelt upon
persons or things within his own recollection, or it opened (with a
startling doubt, or a question, or a piece of quaint humor) the great
circle of thought.

In temper he was quick, but easily appeased. He never affected that
exemption from sensibility which has sometimes been mistaken for
philosophy, and has conferred reputation upon little men. In a word, he
exhibited his emotions in a fine, simple, natural manner. Contrary to the
usual habits of wits, no retort or reply by Lamb, however smart in
character, ever gave pain. It is clear that ill nature is not wit, and
that there may be sparkling flowers which are not surrounded by thorns.
Lamb's dissent was very intelligible, but never superfluously
demonstrative; often, indeed, expressed by his countenance only; sometimes
merely by silence.

He was more pleasant to some persons (more pleasant, I confess, to _me_)
for the few faults or weaknesses that he had. He did not daunt us, nor
throw us to a distance, by his formidable virtues. We sympathized with
him; and this sympathy, which is a union between two similitudes, does not
exist between perfect and imperfect natures. Like all of us, he had a few
prejudices: he did not like Frenchmen; he shrunk from Scotchmen
(excepting, however, Burns); he disliked bankrupts; he hated close
bargainers. For the Jewish nation he entertained a mysterious awe: the
Jewesses he admired, with trembling: "Jael had those full, dark,
inscrutable eyes," he says. Of Braham's triumphant singing he repeatedly
spoke; there had been nothing like it in his recollection: he considered
him equal to Mrs. Siddons. In his letters he characterizes him as "a
mixture of the Jew, the gentleman, and the angel." He liked chimney-
sweepers--the young ones--the "innocent blacknesses;" and with beggars he
had a strong sympathy. He always spoke tenderly of them, and has written
upon them an essay full of beauty. Do not be frightened (he says) at the
hard words, imposture, &c. "Cast thy bread upon the waters: some have
unawares entertained angels."

Much injustice has been done to Lamb by accusing him of excess in
drinking. The truth is, that a small quantity of any strong liquid (wine,
&c.) disturbed his speech, which at best was but an eloquent stammer. The
distresses of his early life made him ready to resort to any remedy which
brought forgetfulness; and he himself, frail in body and excitable, was
very speedily affected. During all my intimacy with him, I never knew him
drink immoderately; except once, when, having been prevailed upon to
abstain altogether from wine and spirits, he resented the vow thus forced
upon him by imbibing an extraordinary quantity of the "spurious" liquid.
When he says, "The waters have gone over me," he speaks in metaphor, not
historically. He was never vanquished by water, and seldom by wine. His
energy, or mental power, was indeed subject to fluctuation; no excessive
merriment, perhaps, but much depression. "My waking life," he writes, "has
much of the confusion, the trouble, and obscure perplexity of an ill
dream. In the daytime I stumble upon dark mountains."

Lamb's mode of life was temperate, his dinner consisting of meat, with
vegetables and bread only. "We have a sure hot joint on Sundays," he
writes, "and when had we better?" He appears to have had a relish for
game, roast pig, and brawn, &c., roast pig especially, when given to him;
but his poverty first, and afterwards his economical habits, prevented his
indulging in such costly luxuries. He was himself a small and delicate
eater at all times; and he entertained something like aversion towards
great feeders. During a long portion of his life, his means were much
straitened. The reader may note his want of money in several of his
letters. Speaking of a play, he says, "I am quite aground for a plan; and
_I must do something for money_."

He was restless and fond of walking. I do not think that he could ride on
horseback; but he could walk during all the day. He had, in that manner,
traversed the whole of London and its suburbs (especially the northern and
north-eastern parts) frequently. "I cannot sit and think," he said. Tired
with exercise, he went to bed early, except when friends supped with him;
and he always rose early, from necessity, being obliged to attend at his
office, in Leadenhall Street, every day, from ten until four o'clock--
sometimes later. It was there that his familiar letters were written. On
his return, after a humble meal, he strolled (if it was summer) into the
suburbs, or traversed the streets where the old bookshops were to be
found. He seldom or never gave dinners. You were admitted at all times to
his plain supper, which was sufficiently good when any visitor came; at
other times, it was spare. "We have _tried_ to eat suppers," Miss Lamb
writes to Mrs. Hazlitt, "but we left our appetites behind us; and the dry
loaf, which offended you, now comes in at night unaccompanied." You were
sure of a welcome at his house; sure of easy, unfettered talk. After
supper you might smoke a pipe with your host, or gossip (upon any subject)
with him or his sensible sister.

Perhaps the pipe was the only thing in which Lamb really exceeded. He was
fond of it from the very early years when he was accustomed to smoke
"Orinooko" at the "Salutation and Cat," with Coleridge, in 1796. He
attempted on several occasions to give it up, but his struggles were
overcome by counter influences. "Tobacco," he says, "stood in its own
light." At last, in 1805, he was able to conquer and abandon it--for a
time. His success, like desertion from a friend, caused some remorse and a
great deal of regret. In writing to Coleridge about his house, which was
"smoky," he inquires, "Have you cured it? It is hard to cure anything of
smoking." Apart from the mere pleasure of smoking, the narcotic soothed
his nerves and controlled those perpetual apprehensions which his sister's
frequent illnesses excited. Of Mary Lamb, Hazlitt has said (somewhere)
that she was the most rational and wisest woman whom he had ever known.
Lamb and his sister had an open party once a week, every Wednesday
evening, when his friends generally went to visit him, without any special
invitation. He invited you suddenly, not pressingly; but with such
heartiness that you at once agreed to come. There was usually a game at
whist on these evenings, in which the stakes were very moderate, indeed
almost nominal.

When my thoughts turn backward, as they sometimes do, to these past days,
I see my dear old friend again,--"in my mind's eye, Horatio,"--with his
outstretched hand, and his grave, sweet smile of welcome. It was always in
a room of moderate size, comfortably but plainly furnished, that he lived.
An old mahogany table was opened out in the middle of the room, round
which, and near the walls, were old, high-backed chairs (such as our
grandfathers used), and a long, plain bookcase completely filled with old
books. These were his "ragged veterans." In one of his letters he says,
"My rooms are luxurious, one for prints, and one for books; a summer and
winter parlor." They, however, were not otherwise decorated. I do not
remember ever to have seen a flower or an image in them. He had not been
educated into expensive tastes. His extravagances were confined to books.
These were all chosen by himself, all old, and all in "admired disorder;"
yet he could lay his hand on any volume in a moment, "You never saw," he
writes, "a bookcase in more true harmony with the contents than what I
have nailed up in my room. Though new, it has more aptitude for growing
old than you shall often see; as one sometimes gets a friend in the middle
of life who becomes an old friend in a short time."

Here Charles Lamb sate, when at home, always near the table. At the
opposite side was his sister, engaged in some domestic work, knitting or
sewing, or poring over a modern novel. "Bridget in some things is behind
her years." In fact, although she was ten years older than her brother,
she had more sympathy with modern books and with youthful fancies than he
had. She wore a neat cap, of the fashion of her youth; an old-fashioned
dress. Her face was pale and somewhat square, but very placid, with gray,
intelligent eyes. She was very mild in her manner to strangers, and to her
brother gentle and tender always. She had often an upward look, of
peculiar meaning, when directed towards him, as though to give him
assurance that all was then well with her. His affection for her was
somewhat less on the surface, but always present. There was great
gratitude intermingled with it. "In the days of weakling infancy," he
writes, "I was her tender charge, as I have been her care in foolish
manhood since." Then he adds, pathetically, "I wish I could throw into a
heap the remainder of our joint existences, that we might share them in
equal division."

Lamb himself was always dressed in black. "I take it," he says, "to be the
proper costume of an author." When this was once objected to, at a
wedding, he pleaded the raven's apology in the fable, that "he had no
other." His clothes were entirely black; and he wore long black gaiters,
up to the knees. His head was bent a little forward, like one who had been
reading; and, if not standing or walking, he generally had in his hand an
old book, a pinch of snuff, or, later in the evening, a pipe. He stammered
a little, pleasantly, just enough to prevent his making speeches; just
enough to make you listen eagerly for his words, always full of meaning,
or charged with a jest; or referring (but this was rare) to some line or
passage from one of the old Elizabethan writers, which was always ushered
in with a smile of tender reverence. When he read aloud it was with a
slight tone, which I used to think he had caught from Coleridge;
Coleridge's recitation, however, rising to a chant. Lamb's reading was not
generally in books of verse, but in the old lay writers, whose tendency
was towards religious thoughts. He liked, however, religious verse. "I can
read," he writes to Bernard Barton, "the homely old version of the Psalms
in our prayer-books, for an hour or two, without sense of weariness." He
avoided manuscripts as much as practicable: "all things read _raw_ to me
in manuscript." Lamb wrote much, including many letters; but his hands
were wanting in pliancy ("inveterate clumsiness" are his words), and his
handwriting was therefore never good. It was neither text nor running
hand, and the letters did not indicate any fluency; it was not the
handwriting of an old man nor of a young man; yet it had a very peculiar
character--stiff, resolute, distinct; quite unlike all others that I have
seen, and easily distinguishable amongst a thousand.

No one has described Lamb's manner or merits so well as Hazlitt: "He
always made the best pun and the best remark in the course of the evening.
His serious conversation, like his serious writing, is his best. No one
ever stammered out such fine piquant, deep, eloquent things, in half a
dozen sentences, as he does. His jests scald like tears; and he probes a
question with a play upon words. There was no fuss or cant about him. He
has furnished many a text for Coleridge to preach upon." (_I. Plain
Speaker._) Charles was frequently merry; but ever, at the back of his
merriment, there reposed a grave depth, in which rich colors and tender
lights were inlaid. For his jests sprang from his sensibility; which was
as open to pleasure as to pain. This sensibility, if it somewhat impaired
his vigor, led him into curious and delicate fancies, and taught him a
liking for things of the highest relish, which a mere robust jester never

Large, sounding words, unless embodying great thoughts (as in the case of
Lear), he did not treasure up or repeat. He was an admirer of what was
high and good, of what was delicate (especially); but he delighted most to
saunter along the humbler regions, where kindness of heart and geniality
of humor made the way pleasant. His intellect was very quick, piercing
into the recondite meaning of things in a moment. His own sentences were
compressed and full of meaning; his opinions independent and decisive; no
qualifying or doubting. His descriptions were not highly colored; but, as
it were, sharply cut, like a piece of marble, rather than like a picture.
He liked and encouraged friendly discussion; but he hated contentious
argument, which leads to quarrel rather than to truth.

There was an utter want of parade in everything he said and did, in
everything about him and his home. The only ornaments on his walls were a
few engravings in black frames: one after Leonardo da Vinci; one after
Titian; and four, I think, by Hogarth, about whom he has written so well.
Images of quaint beauty, and all gentle, simple things (things without
pretension) pleased him to the fullest extent; perhaps a little beyond
their strict merit. I have heard him express admiration for Leonardo da
Vinci that he did not accord to Raffaelle. Raffaelle was too ostentatious
of meaning; his merits were too obvious,--too much thrust upon the
understanding; not retired nor involved, so as to need discovery or
solution. He preferred even Titian (whose meaning is generally obvious
enough) to Raffaelle; but Leonardo was above both. Without doubt, Lamb's
taste on several matters was peculiar; for instance, there were a few
obsolete words, such as _arride, agnize, burgeon_, &c., which he fancied,
and chose to rescue from oblivion. Then he did not care for music. I never
heard a song in his house, nor any conversation on the subject of melody
or harmony, "I have no ear," he says; yet the sentiment, apart from the
science of music, gave him great pleasure. He reverenced the fine organ
playing of Mr. Novello, and admired the soaring singing of his daughter,--
"the tuneful daughter of a tuneful sire;" but he resented the
misapplication of the theatres to sacred music. He thought this a
profanation of the good old original secular purposes of a playhouse.

As a comprehension of all delights he loved London; with its bustle and
its living throngs of men and women; its shops, its turns and windings;
the cries and noises of trade and life; beyond all other things. He liked
also old buildings and out-of-the-way places; colleges; solemn
churchyards, round which the murmuring thousands floated unheeding. In
particular he was fond of visiting, in his short vacations, the
Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Although (he writes) "Mine have been
anything but studious hours," he professes to have received great solace
from those "repositories of 'mouldering' learning." "What a place to be in
is an old library!" he exclaims, "where the souls of the old writers seem
reposing, as in some dormitory or middle state." The odor of the "moth-
scented" coverings of the old books is "as fragrant as the blooms of the
tree of knowledge which grew in the happy orchard."

An ancient manor-house, that Vanbrugh might have built, dwelt like a
picture in his memory. "Nothing fills a child's mind like an old mansion,"
he says. Yet he could feel unaffectedly the simplicity and beauty of a
country life. The heartiness of country people went to his heart direct,
and remained there forever. The Fields and the Gladmans, with their homely
dwellings and hospitality, drew him to them like magnets. There was
nothing too fine nor too lofty in these friends for his tastes or his
affection; they did not "affront him with their light." His fancy always
stooped to moralize; he hated the stilted attitudes and pretensions of
poetasters and self-glorifying artists.

He never spoke disparagingly of any person, nor overpraised any one. When
it was proposed to erect a statue of Clarkson, during his life, he
objected to it: "We should be modest," he says, "for a modest man." He was
himself eminently modest; he never put himself forward: he was always
sought. He had much to say on many subjects, and he was repeatedly pressed
to say this, before he consented to do so. He was almost teased into
writing the Elia Essays. These and all his other writings are brief and to
the point. He did not exhale in words. It was said that Coleridge's talk
was worth so many guineas a sheet. Charles Lamb talked but sparingly. He
put forth only so much as had complete flavor. I know that high pay and
frequent importunity failed to induce him to squander his strength in
careless essays: he waited until he could give them their full share of
meaning and humor.

When I speak of his extreme liking for London, it must not be supposed
that he was insensible to great scenery. After his only visit to the Lake
country, and beholding Skiddaw, he writes back to his host, "O! its fine
black head, and the bleak air at the top of it, with a prospect of
mountains all about making you giddy. It was a day that will stand out
like a mountain in my life;" adding, however, "Fleet Street and the Strand
are better places to live in, for good and all. I could not _live_ in
Skiddaw. I could spend there two or three years; but I must have a
prospect of seeing Fleet Street at the end of that time, or I should mope
and pine away." He loved even its smoke, and asserted that it suited his
vision. A short time previously he had, in a touching letter to Wordsworth
(1801), enumerated the objects that he liked so much in London. "These
things," he writes, "work themselves into my mind: the rooms where I was
born; a bookcase that has followed me about like a faithful dog (only
exceeding him in knowledge) wherever I have moved; old chairs; old tables;
squares where I have sunned myself; my old school: these are my
mistresses. Have I not enough, without your mountains? I do not envy you;
I should pity you, did I not know that the mind will make friends with

Besides his native London, "the centre of busy interests," he had great
liking for unpretending men, who would come and gossip with him in a
friendly, companionable way, or who liked to talk about old authors or old
books. In his love of books he was very catholic. "Shaftesbury is not too
genteel, nor Jonathan Wild too low. But for books which are no books,"
such as "scientific treatises, and the histories of Hume, Smollett, and
Gibbon," &c., he confesses that he becomes splenetic when he sees them
perched up on shelves, "like false saints, who have usurped the true
shrines" of the legitimate occupants. He loved old books and authors,
indeed, beyond most other things. He used to say (with Shakespeare), "The
Heavens themselves are old." He would rather have acquired an ancient
forgotten volume than a modern one, at an equal price; the very
circumstance of its having been neglected and cast disdainfully into the
refuse basket of a bookstall gave it value in his eyes. He bought it, and
rejoiced in being able thus to remedy the injustice of fortune.

He liked best those who had not thriven with posterity: his reverence for
Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle, can only be explained in this way. It must
not be forgotten that his pity or generosity towards neglected authors
extended also to all whom the goddess of Good Fortune had slighted. In
this list were included all who had suffered in purse or in repute. He was
ready to defend man or beast, whenever unjustly attacked. I remember that,
at one of the monthly magazine dinners, when John Wilkes was too roughly
handled, Lamb quoted the story (not generally known) of his replying, when
the blackbirds were reported to have stolen all his cherries, "Poor birds,
they are welcome." He said that those impulsive words showed the inner
nature of the man more truly than all his political speeches.

Lamb's charity extended to all things. I never heard him speak spitefully
of any author. He thought that every one should have a clear stage,
unobstructed. His heart, young at all times, never grew hard or callous
during life. There was always in it a tender spot, which Time was unable
to touch. He gave away _greatly_, when the amount of his means are taken
into consideration; he gave away money--even annuities, I believe--to old
impoverished friends whose wants were known to him. I remember that once,
when we were sauntering together on Pentonville Hill, and he noticed great
depression in me, which he attributed to want of money, he said, suddenly,
in his stammering way, "My dear boy, I--I have a quantity of useless
things. I have now--in my desk, a--a hundred pounds--that I don't--don't
_know_ what to do with. Take it." I was much touched; but I assured him
that my depression did not arise from want of money.

He was very home-loving; he loved London as the best of places; he loved
his home as the dearest spot in London: it was the inmost heart of the
sanctuary. Whilst at home he had no curiosity for what passed beyond his
own territory. His eyes were never truant; no one ever saw him peering out
of window, examining the crowds flowing by; no one ever surprised him
gazing on vacancy. "I lose myself," he says, "in other men's minds. When I
am not walking I am reading; I cannot sit and think; books think for me."
If it was not the time for his pipe, it was always the time for an old
play, or for a talk with friends. In the midst of this society his own
mind grew green again and blossomed; or, as he would have said,

In the foregoing desultory account of Charles Lamb I have, without doubt,
set forth many things that are frequently held as trivial. Nothing,
however, seems to me unimportant which serves in any way to illustrate a
character. The floating straws, it is said, show from what quarter the
wind is blowing. So the arching or knitting of the brow is sometimes
sufficient to indicate wonder or pride, anger or contempt. On the stage,
indeed, it is often the sole means of expressing the fluctuation of the
passions. I myself have heard of a "Pooh!" which interrupted a long
intimacy, when the pander was administering sweet words in too liberal a

As with Lamb so with his companions. Each was notable for some individual
mark or character. His own words will best describe them: "Not many
persons of science, and few professed _literati_, were of his councils.
They were for the most part persons of an uncertain fortune. His intimados
were, to confess a truth, in the world's eye, a ragged regiment; he found
them floating on the surface of society, and the color or something else
in the weed pleased him. The burrs stuck to him; but they were good and
loving burrs, for all that."

None of Lamb's intimates were persons of title or fashion, or of any
political importance. They were reading men, or authors, or old friends
who had no name or pretensions. The only tie that held these last and Lamb
together was a long-standing mutual friendship--a sufficient link. None of
them ever forsook him: they loved him, and in return he had a strong
regard for them. His affections, indeed, were concentrated on few persons;
not widened (weakened) by too general a philanthropy. When you went to
Lamb's rooms on the Wednesday evenings (his "At Home"), you generally
found the card table spread out, Lamb himself one of the players. On the
corner of the table was a snuff-box; and the game was enlivened by sundry
brief ejaculations and pungent questions, which kept alive the wits of the
party present. It was not "silent whist!" I do not remember whether, in
common with Sarah Battle, Lamb had a weakness in favor of "Hearts." I
suppose that it was at one of these meetings that he made that shrewd
remark which has since escaped into notoriety: "Martin" (observed he), "if
dirt were trumps, what a hand you would hold!" It is not known what
influence Martin's trumps had on the rubber then in progress.--When the
conversation became general, Lamb's part in it was very effective. His
short, clear sentences always produced effect. He never joined in talk
unless he understood the subject; then, if the matter in question
interested him, he was not slow in showing his earnestness; but I never
heard him argue or talk for argument's sake. If he was indifferent to the
question, he was silent.

The supper of cold meat, on these occasions, was always on the side-table;
not very formal, as may be imagined; and every one might rise, when it
suited him, and cut a slice or take a glass of porter, without reflecting
on the abstinence of the rest of the company. Lamb would, perhaps, call
out and bid the hungry guest help himself without ceremony. We learn (from
Hazlitt) that Martin Burney's eulogies on books were sometimes
intermingled with expressions of his satisfaction with the veal pie which
employed him at the sideboard. After the game was won (and lost) the ring
of the cheerful glasses announced that punch or brandy and water had
become the order of the night.

It was curious to observe the gradations in Lamb's manner to his various
guests, although it was courteous to all. With Hazlitt he talked as though
they met the subject in discussion on equal terms; with Leigh Hunt he
exchanged repartees; to Wordsworth he was almost respectful; with
Coleridge he was sometimes jocose, sometimes deferring; with Martin Burney
fraternally familiar; with Manning affectionate; with Godwin merely
courteous; or, if friendly, then in a minor degree. The man whom I found
at Lamb's house more frequently than any other person was Martin Burney.
He is now scarcely known; yet Lamb dedicated his prose works to him, in
1818, and there described him as "no common judge of books and men;" and
Southey, corresponding with Rickman, when his "Joan of Arc" was being
reprinted, says, "The best omen I have heard of its welldoing is, that
Martin Burney likes it." Lamb was very much attached to Martin, who was a
sincere and able man, although with a very unprepossessing physiognomy.
His face was warped by paralysis, which affected one eye and one side of
his mouth. He was plain and unaffected in manner, very diffident and
retiring, yet pronouncing his opinions, when asked to do so, without
apology or hesitation. He was a barrister, and travelled the western
circuit at the same time as Sir Thomas Wild (afterwards Lord Truro), whose
briefs he used to read before the other considered them, marking out the
principal facts and points for attention. Martin Burney had excellent
taste in books; eschewed the showy and artificial, and looked into the
sterling qualities of writing. He frequently accompanied Lamb in his
visits to friends, and although very familiar with Charles, he always
spoke of him, with respect, as _Mr_. Lamb. "He is on the top scale of my
friendship ladder," Lamb says, "on which an angel or two is still
climbing, and some, alas! descending." The last time I saw Burney was at
the corner of a street in London, when he was overflowing on the subject
of Raffaelle and Hogarth. After a great and prolonged struggle, he said,
he had arrived at the conclusion that Raffaelle was the greater man of the

Notwithstanding Lamb's somewhat humble description of his friends and
familiars, some of them were men well known in literature.

Amongst others, I met there Messrs. Coleridge, Manning, Hazlitt, Haydon,
Wordsworth, Barron Field, Leigh Hunt, Clarkson, Sheridan Knowles,
Talfourd, Kenney, Godwin, the Burneys, Payne Collier, and others whose
names I need not chronicle. I met there, also, on one or two occasions,
Liston, and Miss Kelly, and, I believe, Rickman. Politics were rarely
discussed amongst them. Anecdotes, characteristic, showing the strong and
weak points of human nature, were frequent enough. But politics
(especially party politics) were seldom admitted. Lamb disliked them as a
theme for evening talk; he perhaps did not understand the subject
scientifically. And when Hazlitt's impetuosity drove him, as it sometimes
did, into fierce expressions on public affairs, these were usually
received in silence; and the matter thus raised up for assent or
controversy was allowed to drop.

Lamb's old associates are now dead. "They that lived so long," as he says,
"and flourished so steadily, are all crumbled away." The beauty of these
evenings was, that every one was placed upon an easy level. No one out-
topped the others. No one--not even Coleridge--was permitted to out-talk
the rest. No one was allowed to hector another, or to bring his own
grievances too prominently forward, so as to disturb the harmony of the
night. Every one had a right to speak, and to be heard; and no one was
ever trodden or clamored down (as in some large assemblies) until he had
proved that he was not entitled to a hearing, or until he had abused his
privilege. I never, in all my life, heard so much unpretending good sense
talked, as at Charles Lamb's social parties. Often a piece of sparkling
humor was shot out that illuminated the whole evening. Sometimes there was
a flight of high and earnest talk, that took one half way towards the

It seems great matter for regret that the thoughts of men like Lamb's
associates should have passed away altogether; for scarcely any of them,
save Wordsworth and Coleridge, are now distinctly remembered; and it is,
perhaps, not impossible to foretell the duration of _their_ fame. All have
answered their purpose, I suppose. Each has had his turn, and has given
place to a younger thinker, as the father is replaced by the son. Thus
Jeremy Taylor and Sir Thomas Browne, and Webster, and the old Dramatists,
have travelled out of sight, and their thoughts are reproduced by modern
writers, the originators of those thoughts often remaining unknown.
Perhaps _One_, out of many thousand authors, survives into an immortality.
The manner and the taste change. The armor and falchion of old give place
to the new weapons of modern warfare--less weighty, but perhaps as
trenchant. We praise the old authors, but we do not read them. The Soul of
Antiquity seems to survive only in its proverbs, which contain the very
essence of wisdom.


_London Magazine.--Contributors.--Transfer of Magazine.--Monthly Dinners
and Visitors.--Colebrook Cottage.--Lamb's Walks.--Essays of Elia: Their
Excellence and Character.--Enlarged Acquaintance.--Visit to Paris.--Miss
Isola.--Quarrel with Southey.--Leaves India House.--Leisure.--Amicus
Rediviuus.--Edward Irving._

The "London Magazine" was established in January, 1820, the publishers
being Messrs. Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, and its editor being Mr. John
Scott, who had formerly edited "The Champion" newspaper, and whose
profession was exclusively that of a man of letters. At this distance of
time it is impossible to specify the authors of all the various papers
which gave a tone to the Magazine; but as this publication forms, in fact,
the great foundation of Lamb's fame, I think it well to enter somewhat
minutely into its constitution and character.

_Mr. John Scott_ was the writer of the several articles entitled "The
Living Authors;" of a good many of the earlier criticisms; of some of the
papers on politics; and of some which may be termed "Controversial." The
essays on Sir Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Godwin, and Lord Byron are from
his hand. He contributed also the critical papers on the writings of
Keats, Shelley, Leigh Hunt, and Hazlitt.

_Mr. Hazlitt_ wrote all the articles which appear under the head "Drama;"
the twelve essays entitled "Table Talk;" and the papers on Fonthill Abbey,
and on the Angerstein pictures, and the Elgin marbles.

_Mr. Charles Lamb's_ papers were the well-known Elia Essays, which first
appeared in this Magazine. Mr. Elia (whose name he assumed) was, at one
time, a clerk in the India House. He died, however, before the Essays were
made public, and was ignorant of Lamb's intention to do honor to his name.

_Mr. Thomas Carlyle_ was author of the "Life and Writings of Schiller," in
the eighth, ninth, and tenth volumes of the Magazine. These papers,
although very excellent, appear to be scarcely prophetic of the great fame
which their author was afterwards destined, so justly, to achieve.

_Mr. De Quincey's_ contributions were the "Confessions of an Opium Eater;"
also various papers specified as being "by the Opium Eater;" the essay on
Jean Paul Richter, and papers translated from the German, or dealing with
German literature.

_The Reverend Henry Francis Cary_ (the translator of Dante) wrote the
Notices of the Early French poets; the additions to Orford's "Royal and
Noble Authors;" and, I believe, the continuations of Johnson's "Lives of
the Poets." Of these last, however, I am not certain. _Mr. Allan
Cunningham_ (the Scottish poet) was author of the "Twelve Tales of Lyddal
Cross;" of the series of stories or papers styled "Traditional
Literature;" and of various other contributions in poetry and prose.

_Mr. John Poole_ contributed the "Beauties of the living Dramatists;"
being burlesque imitations of modern writers for the stage; viz., Morton,
Dibdin, Reynolds, Moncrieff, &c.

_Mr. John Hamilton Reynolds_ wrote, I believe, in every number of the
periodical, after it came into the hands of Taylor and Hessey, who were
his friends. All the papers with the name of Henry Herbert affixed were
written by him; also the descriptive accounts of the Coronation, Greenwich
Hospital, The Cockpit Royal, The Trial of Thurtell, &c.

_Mr. Thomas Hood_ fleshed his maiden sword here; and his first poems of
length, "Lycus the Centaur" and "The two Peacocks of Bedfont" may be found
in the Magazine.

_Mr. George Darley_ (author of "Thomas a Becket," &c.) wrote the several
papers entitled "Dramaticles;" some pieces of verse; and the Letters
addressed to "The Dramatists of the Day."

_Mr. Richard Ayton_ wrote "The Sea Roamers," the article on "Hunting," and
such papers as are distinguished by the signature "R. A."

_Mr. Keats_ (the poet) and _Mr. James Montgomery_ contributed verses.

_Sir John Bowring_ (I believe) translated into English verse the Spanish
poetry, and wrote the several papers which appear under the head of
"Spanish Romances."

_Mr. Henry Southern_ (editor of "The Retrospective Review") wrote the
"Conversations of Lord Byron," and "The Fanariotes of Constantinople," in
the tenth volume.

_Mr. Walter Savage Landor_ was author of the Imaginary Conversation,
between Southey and Porson, in volume eight.

_Mr. Julius (Archdeacon) Hare_ reviewed the works of Landor in the tenth

_Mr. Elton_ contributed many translations from Greek and Latin authors;
from the minor poems of Homer, from Catullus, Nonnus, Propertius, &c.

Messrs. Hartley Coleridge, John Clare, Cornelius Webb, Bernard Barton, and
others sent poems; generally with the indicating name.

I myself was amongst the crowd of contributors; and was author of various
pieces, some in verse, and others in prose, now under the protection of
that great Power which is called "Oblivion."

Finally, the too celebrated _Thomas Griffiths Wainewright_ contributed
various fantasies, on Art and Arts; all or most of which may be recognized
by his assumed name of Janus Weathercock.

To show the difficulty of specifying the authorship of all the articles
contributed,--even Mr. Hessey (one of the proprietors) was unable to do
so; and indeed, shortly before his death, applied to me for information on
the subject.

By the aid of the gentlemen who contributed--each his quota--to the
"London Magazine," it acquired much reputation, and a very considerable
sale. During its career of five years, it had, for a certain style of
essay, no superior (scarcely an equal) amongst the periodicals of the day.
It was perhaps not so widely popular as works directed to the multitude,
instead of to the select few, might have been; for thoughts and words
addressed to the cultivated intellect only must always reckon upon limited
success. Yet the Magazine was successful to an extent that preserved its
proprietors from loss; perhaps not greatly beyond that point. Readers in
those years were insignificant in number, compared with readers of the
present time, when almost all men are able to derive benefit from letters,
and letters are placed within every one's reach.

On the death of Mr. John Scott, the Magazine, in July, 1821, passed into
the hands of Messrs. Taylor and Hessey; the former being the gentleman who
discovered the identity of Junius with Sir Philip Francis; the latter
being simply very courteous to all, and highly respectable and

John Scott was an able literary man. I do not remember much more of him
than that he was a shrewd and I believe a conscientious writer; that he
had great industry; was, generally, well read, and possessed a very fair
amount of critical taste; that, like other persons, he had some
prejudices, and that he was sometimes, moreover, a little hasty and
irritable. Yet he agreed well, as far as I know, with the regiment of
mercenaries who marched under his flag.

When Taylor and Hessey assumed the management of the "London Magazine"
they engaged no editor. They were tolerably liberal paymasters; the
remuneration for each page of prose (not very laborious) being, if the
writer were a person of repute or ability, one pound; and for each page of
verse, two pounds. Charles Lamb received (very fitly) for his brief and
charming Essays, two or three times the amount of the other writers. When
they purchased the Magazine, the proprietors opened a house in Waterloo
Place for the better circulation of the publication.

It was there that the contributors met once a month, over an excellent
dinner given by the firm, and consulted and talked on literary matters
together. These meetings were very social, all the guests coming with a
determination to please and to be pleased. I do not know that many
important matters were arranged, for the welfare of the Magazine, at these
dinners; but the hearts of the contributors were opened, and with the
expansion of the heart the intellect widened also. If there had been any
shades of jealousy amongst them, they faded away before the light of the
friendly carousal; if there was any envy, it died. All the fences and
restraints of authorship were cast off, and the natural human being was

Amongst others, Charles Lamb came to most of these dinners, always dressed
in black (his old snuff-colored suit having been dismissed for years);
always kind and genial; conversational, not talkative, but quick in reply;
eating little, and drinking moderately with the rest. Allan Cunningham, a
stalwart man, was generally there; very Scotch in aspect, but ready to do
a good turn to any one. His talk was not too abundant, although he was a
voluminous writer in prose. His songs, not unworthy of being compared with
even those of Burns, are (as everybody knows) excellent. His face shone at
these festivities. Reynolds came always. His good temper and vivacity were
like condiments at the feast.

There also came, once or twice, the Rev. H. F. Cary, the quiet gentleness
of whose face almost interfered with its real intelligence. Yet he spoke
well, and with readiness, on any subject that he chose to discuss. He was
very intimate with Lamb, who latterly often dined with him, and was always
punctual. "By Cot's plessing we will not be absent at the Grace" (he
writes in 1834). Lamb's taste was very homely: he liked tripe and cow-
heel, and once, when he was suggesting a particular dish to his friend, he
wrote," We were talking of roast shoulder of mutton and onion sauce; but I
scorn to prescribe hospitalities. "Charles had great regard for Mr. Cary;
and in his last letter (written on his death-bed) he inquired for a book,
which he was very uneasy about, and which he thought he had left at Mrs.
Dyer's. "It is Mr. Cary's book" (he says), "and I would not lose it for
the world." Cary was entirely without vanity; and he, who had traversed
the ghastly regions of the Inferno, interchanged little courtesies on
equal terms with workers who had never travelled beyond the pages of "The
London Magazine." No one (it is said) who has performed anything great
ever looks big upon it.

Thomas Hood was there, almost silent except when he shot out some
irresistible pun, and disturbed the gravity of the company. Hood's labors
were poetic, but his sports were passerine. It is remarkable that he, who
was capable of jesting even on his own prejudices and predilections,
should not (like Catullus) have brought down the "Sparrow," and enclosed
him in an ode. Lamb admired and was very familiar with him. "What a
fertile genius he is!" (Charles Lamb writes to Bernard Barton), "and quiet
withal." He then expatiates particularly on Hood's sketch of "Very Deaf
indeed!" wherein a footpad has stopped an old gentleman, but cannot make
him understand what he wants, although the fellow is firing a pistol into
his ear trumpet. "You'd like him very much," he adds. Although Lamb liked
him very much, he was a little annoyed once by Hood writing a comical
essay in imitation of (and so much like) one of his own, that people
generally thought that Elia had awakened in an unruly mood. Hazlitt
attended once or twice; but he was a rather silent guest, rising into
emphatic talk only when some political discussion (very rare) stimulated

Mr. De Quincey appeared at only one of these dinners. The expression of
his face was intelligent, but cramped and somewhat peevish. He was self-
involved, and did not add to the cheerfulness of the meeting. I have
consulted this gentleman's three essays, of which Charles Lamb is
professedly the subject; but I cannot derive from them anything
illustrative of my friend Lamb's character. I have been mainly struck
therein by De Quincey's attacks on Hazlitt, to whom the essays had no
relation. I am aware that the two authors (Hazlitt and De Quincey) had a
quarrel in 1823, Hazlitt having claimed certain theories or reasonings
which the other had propounded as his own. In reply to Mr. De Quincey's
claims to have had a familiar acquaintance with Charles Lamb (in 1821 and
1823), I have to observe that during these years (when I was almost
continually with him) I never saw Mr. De Quincey at his house, and never
heard Lamb speak of him or refer to his writings on any occasion. His
visits to Lamb were surely very rare.

_John Clare_, a peasant from Northamptonshire, and a better poet than
Bloomfield, was one of the visitors. He was thoroughly rustic, dressed in
conspicuously country fashion, and was as simple as a daisy. His delight
at the wonders of London formed the staple of his talk. This was often
stimulated into extravagance by the facetious fictions of Reynolds. Poor
fellow, he died insane.

About this time Lamb determined to leave London; and in 1823 he moved into
Colebrook Cottage, Islington, a small, detached white house of six rooms.
"The New River, rather elderly by this time" (he says), "runs, if a
moderate walking pace can be so termed, close to the foot of the house;
behind is a spacious garden, &c., and the cheerful dining-room is studded
all over and rough with old books: I feel like a great lord; never having
had a house before."

From this place (which a friend of his christened "Petty Venice") he used
often to walk into London, to breakfast or dine with an acquaintance. For
walking was always grateful to him. When confined to his room in the India
House, he counted it amongst his principal recreations, and even now, with
the whole world of leisure before him, it ranked amongst his daily
enjoyments. By himself or with an acquaintance, and subsequently with
Hood's dog Dash (whose name should have been Rover), he wandered over all
the roads and by-paths of the adjoining country. He was a peripatetic, in
every way, beyond the followers of Aristotle. Walking occupied his
energies; and when he returned home, he (like Sarah Battle) "unbent his
mind over a book." "I cannot sit and think" is his phrase. If he now and
then stopped for a minute at a rustic public house, tired with the
excursive caprices of Dash--beguiled perhaps by the simple attractions of
a village sign--I hold him excusable for the glass of porter which
sometimes invigorated him in his fatigue.

In the course of these walks he traversed all the green regions which lie
on the north and north-east of the metropolis. In London he loved to
frequent those streets where the old bookshops were, Wardour Street,
Princes Street, Seven Dials (where the shop has been long closed): he
loved also Gray's Inn, in the garden of which he met Dodd, just before his
death ("with his buffoon mask taken off"); and the Temple, into which you
pass from the noise and crowd of Fleet Street,--into the quiet and "ample
squares and green recesses," where the old Dial," the garden god of
Christian gardens," then told of Time, and where the still living fountain
sends up its song into the listening air.

Of the Essays of "Elia," [1] written originally for the London Magazine, I
feel it difficult to speak. They are the best amongst the good--his best.
I see that they are genial, delicate, terse, full of thought and full of
humor; that they are delightfully personal; and when he speaks of himself
you cannot hear too much; that they are not imitations, but adoptions. We
encounter his likings and fears, his fancies (his nature) in all. The
words have an import never known before: the syllables have expanded their
meaning, like opened flowers; the goodness of others is heightened by his
own tenderness; and what is in nature hard and bad is qualified
(qualified, not concealed) by the tender light of pity, which always
intermingles with his own vision. Gravity and laughter, fact and fiction,
are heaped together, leavened in each case by charity and toleration; and
all are marked by a wise humanity. Lamb's humor, I imagine, often
reflected (sometimes, I hope, relieved) the load of pain that always
weighed on his own heart.

The first of the Essays ("The South Sea House") appeared in the month of
August, 1820; the last ("Captain Jackson") in November, 1824. Lamb's
literary prosperity during this period was at the highest; yet he was
always loath to show himself too much before the world. After the first
series of Essays had been published (for they are divided into two parts)
he feigned that he was dead, and caused the second series to be printed as
by "a friend of the late Elia." These were written somewhat reluctantly.
His words are, "To say the truth, it is time he [Elia] were gone. The
humor of the thing, if ever there were much humor in it, was pretty well
exhausted; and a two years-and-a-half existence has been a tolerable
duration for a phantom." It is thus modestly that he speaks of essays
which have delighted all cultivated readers.

I want a phrase to express the combination of qualities which constitutes
Lamb's excellence in letters. In the absence of this, I must content
myself with referring to some of the papers which live most distinctly in
my recollection. I will not transcribe any part of his eulogy on Hogarth;
nor of his fine survey of "Lear," that grandest of all tragedies. They are
well known to students of books. I turn for a moment to the Elia Essays
only. In mere variety of subject (extent in a small space) they surpass
almost all other essays. They are full of a witty melancholy. Many of them
may be termed autobiographical, which trebles their interest with most

Let me recollect:--How he mourns over the ruins of Blakesmoor (once his
home on holidays), "reduced to an antiquity"! How he stalks, ghost-like,
through the desolate rooms of the South Sea House, or treads the avenues
of the Temple, where the benchers ("supposed to have been children once")
are pacing the stony terraces! Then there is the inimitable Sarah Battle
(unconquered even by Chance), arming herself for the war of whist; and the
young Africans, "preaching from their chimney-pulpits lessons of patience
to mankind." If your appetite is keen, by all means visit Bobo, who
invented roast pig: if gay, and disposed to saunter through the pleasant
lanes of Hertfordshire, go to Mackery End, where the Gladmans and Brutons
will bid you welcome: if grave, let your eyes repose on the face of dear
old Bridget Elia, "in a season of distress the truest comforter." Should
you wish to enlarge your humanity, place a few coins (maravedis) in the
palm of one of the beggars (the "blind Tobits") of London, and try to
believe his tales, histories or fables, as though they were the veritable
stories (told by night) on the banks of the famous Tigris. Do not despise
the poorest of the poor--even the writer of valentines: "All valentines
are not foolish," as you may read in Elia's words; and "All fools' day"
may cheer you, as the fool in "Lear" may make you wise and tolerant.

I could go on for many pages--to the poor relations, and the old books,
and the old actors; to Dodd, who "dying put on the weeds of Dominic;" and
to Mrs. Jordan and Dickey Suet (both whom I well remember); to Elliston,
always on the stage; to Munden, with features ever changing; and to
Liston, with only one face: "But what a face!" I forbear. I pass also over
Comberbatch (Coleridge), borrower of books, and Captain Jackson, and
Barbara S. (Miss Kelly), and go to the rest of my little history. The
"Popular Fallacies," which in course of time followed, and were eventually
added to the second series and re-published, are in manner essays also on
a small scale, brief and dealing with abstract subjects more than the
"Elia." It may be interesting to know that Lamb's two favorites were "That
home is home, though it is never so homely," and "That we should rise with
the lark." In the first of these he enters into all the discomforts and
terrible distractions of a poor man's home; in the second he descants on
the luxuries of bed, and the nutritious value of dreams: "The busy part of
mankind," he says, "are content to swallow their sleep by wholesale: we
choose to linger in bed and digest our dreams." The last "Fallacy" is
remarkable for a sentence which seems to refer to Alice W.: "We were never
much in the world," he says; "disappointment early struck a dark veil
between us and its dazzling illusions:" he then concludes with, "We once
thought life to be something; but it has unaccountably fallen from us
before its time. The sun has no purposes of ours to light us to. Why
should we get up?"

It will be observed by the sagacious student of the entire Essays, that
however quaint or familiar, or (rarely, however) sprinkled with classical
allusions, they are never vulgar, nor commonplace, nor pedantic. They are
"natural with a self-pleasing quaintness." The phrases are not affected,
but are derived from our ancestors, now gone to another country; they are
brought back from the land of shadows, and made denizens of England, in
modern times. Lamb's studies were the lives and characters of men; his
humors and tragic meditations were generally dug out of his own heart:
there are in them earnestness, and pity, and generosity, and truth; and
there is not a mean or base thought to be found throughout all.

In reading over these old essays, some of them affect me with a grave
pleasure, amounting to pain. I seem to import into them the very feeling
with which he wrote them; his looks and movements are transfigured, and
communicated to me by the poor art of the printer. His voice, so sincere
and earnest, rings in my ear again. He was no Feignwell: apart from his
joke, never was a man so real, and free from pretence. No one, as I
believe, will ever taste the flavor of certain writers as he has done. He
was the last true lover of Antiquity. Although he admitted a few of the
beauties of modern times, yet in his stronger love he soared backwards to
old acclivities, and loved to rest there. His essays, like his sonnets,
are (as I have said) reflections of his own feelings. And so, I think,
should essays generally be. A history or sketch of science, or a logical
effort, may help the reader some way up the ladder of learning; but they
do not link themselves with his affections. I myself prefer the affections
to the sciences. The story of the heart is the deepest of all histories;
and Shakespeare is profounder and longer lived than Maclaurin, or Malthus,
or Ricardo.

Lamb's career throughout his later years was marked by an enlarged
intercourse with society (it had never been confined to persons of his own
way of thinking), by more frequent absences in the country and elsewhere,
and by the reception of a somewhat wider body of acquaintance into his own
house. He visited the Universities, in which he much delighted: he
fraternized with many of the contributors to the "London Magazine." He
received the letters and calls of his admirers--strangers and others.
These were now much extended in number, by the publication of the Essays
of Elia. I was in the habit of seeing him very frequently at his home: I
met him also at Mr. Cary's, at Leigh Hunt's, at Novello's, at Haydon's,
once at Hazlitt's, and elsewhere. It must have been about this time that
one of his visits (which always took place when the students were absent)
was made to Oxford, where he met George Dyer, dreaming amongst the
quadrangles, as he has described in his pleasant paper called "Oxford in
the Vacation."

Lamb's letters to correspondents are perhaps not quite so frequent now as
formerly. He writes occasionally to his old friends; to Wordsworth, and
Southey, and Coleridge; also to Manning, who is still in China, and to
whom in December, 1815, he had sent one of his best and most
characteristic letters, describing the (imaginary) death and decrepitude
of his correspondent's friends in England; although he takes care (the
next day) to tell him that his first was a "lying letter." Indeed, that
letter itself, humorous as it is, is so obviously manufactured in the
fabulous district of hyperbole, that it requires no disavowal. Manning,
however, returns to England not long afterwards; and then the
correspondence, if less humorous, is also less built up of
improbabilities. He corresponds also with Mr. Barron Field, who is
relegated to the Judicial Bench in New South Wales. Of him he inquires
about "The Land of Thieves;" he wants to know if their poets be not
plagiarists; and suggests that half the truth which his letters contain
"will be converted into lies" before they reach his correspondent. Mr.
Field is the gentleman to whom the pleasant paper on "Distant
Correspondents" is addressed.

In 1822 Charles Lamb and his sister travelled as far as Paris, neither of
them understanding a word of the French language. What tempted them to
undertake this expedition I never knew. Perhaps, as he formerly said, when
journeying to the Lakes, it was merely a daring ambition to see "remote
regions." The French journey seems to have been almost barren of good. He
brought nothing back in his memory, and there is no account whatever of
his adventures there. It has been stated that Mary Lamb was taken ill on
the road; but I do not know this with certainty. From a short letter to
Barron Field, it appears, indeed, that he thought Paris "a glorious
picturesque old city," to which London looked "mean and new," although the
former had "no Saint Paul's or Westminster Abbey." "I and sister," he
writes, "are just returned from Paris. We have eaten frogs! It has been
such a treat! Nicest little delicate things; like Lilliputian rabbits."
But this is all. His Reminiscences, whatever they were, do not enrich his
correspondence. In conversation he used to tell how he had once intended
to ask the waiter for an egg (oeuf), but called, in his ignorance, for Eau
de vie, and that the mistake produced so pleasant a result, that his
inquiries afterwards for Eau de vie were very frequent.

In his travels to Cambridge, which began to be frequent about this time,
his gains were greater. For there he first became acquainted with Miss
Emma Isola, for whom, as I can testify, he at all times exhibited the
greatest parental regard. When he and Mary Lamb first knew her, she was a
little orphan girl, at school. They invited her to spend her holidays with
them; and she went accordingly: the liking became mutual, and gradually
deepened into great affection. The visit once made and so much relished,
became habitual; and Miss Isola's holidays were afterwards regularly spent
at the Lambs' house. She used to take long walks with Charles, when his
sister was too old and infirm to accompany him. Ultimately she was looked
upon in the light of a child; and Charles Lamb, when speaking of her (and
he did this always tenderly), used invariably to call her "Our Emma." To
show how deep his regard was, he at one time was invited to engage in some
profitable engagement (1830) whilst Miss Isola was in bad health; but he
at once replied, "Whilst she is in danger, and till she is out of it, I
feel that I have no spirits for an engagement of any kind." Some years
afterwards, when she became well, and was about to be married, Lamb
writes, "I am about to lose my only walk companion," whose mirthful
spirits (as he prettily terms it) were "the youth of our house." "With my
perfect approval, and more than concurrence," as he states, she was to be
married to Mr. Moxon. Miss Emma Isola, who was, in Charles Lamb's phrase,
"a very dear friend of ours," remained his friend till death, and became
eventually his principal legatee. After her marriage, Charles, writing to
her husband (November, 1833), says, "Tell Emma I every day love her more,
and miss her less. Tell her so, from her loving Uncle, as she has let me
call myself." It was, as I believe, a very deep paternal affection.

The particulars disclosed by the letters of 1823 and 1824 are so generally
unimportant, that it is unnecessary to refer to them. Lamb, indeed, became
acquainted with the author of "Virginius" (Sheridan Knowles), with Mr.
Macready, and with the writers in the "London Magazine" (which then had
not been long established). And he appears gradually to discover that his
work at the India House is wearisome, and complains of it in bitter terms:
"Thirty years have I served the Philistines" (he writes to Wordsworth),
"and my neck is not subdued to the yoke." He confesses that he had once
hoped to have a pension on "this side of absolute incapacity and
infirmity," and to have walked out in the "fine Isaac Walton mornings,
careless as a beggar, and walking, walking, and dying walking;" but he
says, "the hope is gone. I sit like Philomel all day (but not singing),
with my breast against this thorn of a desk."

The character of his letters at this time is not generally lively; there
is, he says, "a certain deadness to everything, which I think I may date
from poor John's (his brother's) loss. Deaths overset one. Then there's
Captain Burney gone. What fun has whist now?" He proceeds, "I am made up
of queer points. My theory is to enjoy life; but my practice is against
it." The only hope he has, he says, is, "that some pulmonary affection may
relieve me." The success which attended the "Elia" Essays did not comfort
him, nor the (pecuniary) temptations of the bookseller to renew them. "The
spirit of the thing in my own mind is gone" (he writes). "Some brains," as
Ben Jonson says, "will endure but one skimming." Notwithstanding his
melancholy humor, however, there is Hope in the distance, which he does
not see, and Freedom is not far off.

It was during this period of Lamb's life (1823) that the quarrel between
him and his old friend Robert Southey took place. Southey had long been
(as was well known) one of the most constant and efficient contributors to
the "Quarterly Review;" and Lamb assigned to him the authorship of one of
the Review articles, in which he himself was scantily complimented, and
his friends Hazlitt and Leigh Hunt denounced. Sir T. Talfourd thinks that
Mr. Southey was not the author of the offending essay. Be that as it may,
Lamb was then of opinion that his old Tory friend was the enemy. In a
letter to Bernard Barton (July, 1823) he writes, "Southey has attacked
'Elia' on the score of infidelity. He might have spared an old friend. I
hate his Review, and his being a Reviewer;" but he adds, "I love and
respect Southey, and will not retort." However, in the end, irritated by
the calumny, or (which is more probable) resenting compliments bestowed on
himself at the expense of his friends, he sat down and penned his famous
"Letter of Elia to Robert Southey, Esq.," which appeared in the "London
Magazine" for October, 1823, and which was afterwards published amongst
his collected letters.

This letter, I remember, produced a strong sensation in literary circles;
and Mr. Southey's acquaintances smiled, and his enemies rejoiced at it.
Indeed, the letter itself is a remarkable document. With much of Lamb's
peculiar phraseology, it is argumentative, and defends the imaginary
weaknesses or faults, against which (as he guesses) the "Quarterly"
reproofs had been levelled. The occasion having gone by, this letter has
been dismissed from most minds, except that part of it which exhibits
Lamb's championship on behalf of Hunt and Hazlitt, and which is more
touching than anything to be found in controversial literature.

Lamb's letter was unknown to his sister until after it appeared in the
Magazine, it being his practice to write his letters in Leadenhall Street.
It caused her a good deal of annoyance when she saw it in print. It is
pleasant to think, however, that it was the means of restoring the old
intimacy between Southey and Lamb, and also of strengthening the
friendship between Lamb and Hazlitt, which some misunderstanding, at that
time, had a little loosened.

When I was married (October, 1824), Lamb sent me a congratulatory letter,
which, as it was not published by Sir T. Talfourd, and is, moreover,
characteristic, I insert here, from the MS.

"MY DEAR PROCTER: I do agnize a shame in not having been to pay my
congratulations to Mrs. Procter and your happy self; but on Sunday (my
only morning) I was engaged to a country walk; and in virtue of the
hypostatical union between us, when Mary calls, it is understood that I
call too, we being univocal.

"But indeed I am ill at these ceremonious inductions. I fancy I was not
born with a call on my head, though I have brought one down upon it with a
vengeance. I love not to pluck that sort of frail crude, but to stay its
ripening into visits. In probability Mary will be at Southampton Row this
morning, and something of that kind be matured between you; but in any
case not many hours shall elapse before I shake you by the hand.

"Meantime give my kindest felicitations to Mrs. Procter, and assure her I
look forward with the greatest delight to our acquaintance. By the way,
the deuce a bit of cake has come to hand, which hath an inauspicious look
at first; but I comfort myself that that Mysterious Service hath the
property of Sacramental Bread, which mice cannot nibble, nor time moulder.

"I am married myself--to a severe step-wife--who keeps me, not at bed and
board, but at desk and board, and is jealous of my morning aberrations. I
cannot slip out to congratulate kinder unions. It is well she leaves me
alone o' nights--the d-d Day-hag _Business_. She is even now peeping over
me to see I am writing no Love Letters. I come, my dear--Where is the
Indigo Sale Book?

"Twenty adieus, my dear friends, till we meet.

    "Yours most truly,

         "C. LAMB.

    "_Leadenhall, Nov. 11th, '24_."

The necessity for labor continued for some short time longer. At last (in
the beginning of the year 1825) deliverance came. Charles had previously
intimated his wish to resign. The Directors of the East India House call
him into their private room, and after complimenting him on his long and
meritorious services, they suggest that his health does not appear to be
good; that a little ease is expedient at his time of life, and they then
conclude their conversation by suddenly intimating their intention of
granting him a pension, for his life, of two thirds of the amount of his
salary; "a magnificent offer," as he terms it. He is from that moment
emancipated; let loose from all ties of labor, free to fly wheresoever he
will. At the commencement of the talk Charles had had misgivings, for he
was summoned into the "formidable back parlor," he says, and thought that
the Directors were about to intimate that they had no further occasion for
his services. The whole scene seems like one of the summer sunsets,
preceded by threatenings of tempest, when the dark piles of clouds are
separated and disappear, lost and swallowed by the radiance which fills
the whole length and breadth of the sky, and looks as if it would be
eternal. "I don't know what I answered," Lamb says, "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--forever."

At this time Lamb's salary was six hundred pounds per annum. The amount of
two thirds of this sum, therefore, would be an annuity of four hundred
pounds. But an annual provision was also made for his sister, in case she
should survive him; and this occasioned a small diminution. In exact
figures, he was to receive three hundred and ninety-one pounds a year
during the remainder of his life, and then an annuity was to become
payable to Mary Lamb. His sensations, first of stupefaction, and
afterwards of measureless delight, will be seen by reference to his
exulting letters of this period. First he writes to Wordsworth of "the
good that has befallen me." These are his words: "I came home--forever--on
Tuesday last. The incomprehensibleness of my condition overwhelmed me. It
was like passing from Time into Eternity." * * * "Mary wakes every morning
with an obscure feeling that some good has happened to us."--To Bernard
Barton his words are, "I have scarce steadiness of head to compose a
letter. I am free, B. B.; free as air. I will live another fifty years."
* * * "Would I could sell you some of my leisure! Positively the best thing
a man can have to do is--NOTHING: and next to that, perhaps, Good Works."
--To Miss Hutchinson he writes, "I would not go back to my prison for seven
years longer for ten thousand pounds a year. For some days I was
staggered, and could not comprehend the magnitude of my deliverance--was
confused, giddy. But these giddy feelings have gone away, and my weather-
glass stands at a degree or two above 'CONTENT.' All being holidays, I
feel as if I had none; as they do in heaven, where 'tis all Red Letter

Lamb's discharge or relief was timely and graciously bestowed. It opened a
bright vista through which he beheld (in hope) many years of enjoyment;
scenes in which his spirit, rescued from painful work, had only to disport
itself in endless delights. He had well earned his discharge. He had
labored without cessation for thirty-three years; had been diligent, and
trusted--a laborer worthy of his hire. And the consciousness of this long
and good service must have mingled with his reward and sweetened it. It is
a great thing to have earned your meal--your rest,--whatever may be the
payment in full for your deserts. You have not to force up gratitude from
oblivious depths, day by day, for undeserved bounty. In Lamb's case it
happened, unfortunately, that the activity of mind which had procured his
repose, tended afterwards to disqualify him from enjoying it. The leisure,
that he had once reckoned on so much, exceeded, when it came, the pains of
the old counting-house travail. It is only the imbecile, or those brought
up in complete lazihood, who can encounter successfully the monotony of
"nothing to do," and can slumber away their lives unharmed amongst the
dumb weeds and flowers.

In the course of a short time it appeared that he was unable to enjoy, so
perfectly as he had anticipated, his golden time of "Nothing to do," his
Liberia. He therefore took long walks into the country. He also acquired
the companionship of the large dog Dash, much given to wandering, to whose
erratic propensities (Lamb walking at the rate of fourteen miles a day) he
eventually became a slave. The rambling, inconstant dog rendered the
clear, serene day of leisure almost turbid; and he was ultimately (in
order to preserve for Charles some little remaining enjoyment) bestowed
upon another master. Lamb was always (as I have said) fond of walking, and
he had some vague liking, I suppose, for free air and green pastures;
although he had no great relish specially for the flowers and ornaments of
the country. I have often walked with him in the neighborhood of our great
city; and I do not think that he ever treasured up in his memory the
violets (or other flowers), the songs of birds, or the pictures of sheep
or kine dotting the meadows. Neither his conversation nor writings
afforded evidence that he had done so. It is not easy, therefore, to
determine what the special attractions were that drew him out of London,
which he loved, into the adjoining country, where his walks oftenest lay.

At the time of Lamb's deliverance from office labor, he was living in
Colebrook Row. It was there that George Dyer, whose blindness and absence
of mind rendered it almost dangerous for him to wander unaccompanied about
the suburbs of London, came to visit him on one occasion. By accident,
instead of entering the house door, Dyer's aqueous instincts led him
towards the water, and in a moment he had plunged overhead in the New
River. I happened to go to Lamb's house, about an hour after his rescue
and restoration to dry land, and met Miss Lamb in the passage, in a state
of great alarm: she was whimpering, and could only utter, "Poor Mr. Dyer!
Poor Mr. Dyer!" in tremulous tones. I went up stairs, aghast, and found
that the involuntary diver had been placed in bed, and that Miss Lamb had
administered brandy and water, as a well-established preventive against
cold. Dyer, unaccustomed to anything stronger than the "crystal spring,"
was sitting upright in the bed, perfectly delirious. His hair had been
rubbed up, and stood out like so many needles of iron gray. He did not
(like Falstaff) "babble of green fields," but of the "watery Neptune." "I
soon found out where I was," he cried out to me, laughing; and then he
went wandering on, his words taking flight into regions where no one could
follow. Charles Lamb has commemorated this immersion of his old friend, in
his (Elia) essay of "Amicus Redivivus."

In the summer of 1826 Lamb published, in "Blackwood's Magazine," a little
drama in one act, entitled "The Wife's Trial." It was founded on Crabbe's
poetical tale of "The Confidant;" and contains the germ of a plot, which
undoubtedly might have been worked out with more effect, if Lamb had
devoted sufficient labor to that object.

Amongst the remarkable persons whom Charles became acquainted with, in
these years, was Edward Irving. Lamb used to meet him at Coleridge's house
at Highgate, and elsewhere; and he came to the conclusion that he was (as
indeed he _was_) a fine, sincere, spirited man, terribly slandered. Edward
Irving, who issued, like a sudden light, from the obscure little town of
Annan, in Scotland, acquired, in the year 1822, a wide reputation in
London. He was a minister of the Scotch Church, and before he came to
England had acted as an assistant preacher to Dr. Chalmers. In one of
Charles's letters (in 1835) to Bernard Barton (who had evidently been
measuring Irving by a low Quaker standard), he takes the opportunity of
speaking of the great respect that he entertained for the Scotch minister.
"Let me adjure you" (writes Charles), "have no doubt of Irving. Let Mr.
----[?] drop his disrespect." "Irving has prefixed a dedication, of a
missionary character, to Coleridge--most beautiful, cordial, and sincere.
He there acknowledges his obligations to S. T. C., at whose Gamaliel feet
he sits weekly, rather than to all men living." Again he writes, "Some
friend said to Irving, 'This will do you no good' (no good in worldly
repute). '_That is a reason for doing it_,' quoth Irving. I am thoroughly
pleased with him. He is firm, out-speaking, intrepid, and docile as a
pupil of Pythagoras. "In April, 1825, Lamb writes to Wordsworth to the
same effect. "Have you read the noble dedication of Irving's Missionary
Sermons?" he inquires; and then he repeats Irving's fine answer to the
suggested impolicy of publishing his book with its sincere prefix.

Poor Edward Irving! whom I always deeply respected, and knew intimately
for some years, and who was one of the best and truest men whom it has
been my good fortune to meet in life! He entered London amidst the shouts
of his admirers, and he departed in the midst of contumely; sick, and sad,
and maligned, and misunderstood; going back to his dear native Scotland
only to die. The time has long passed for discussing the truths or errors
of Edward Irving's peculiar creed; but there can be no doubt that he
himself was true and faithful till death, and that he preached only what
he entirely believed. And what can man do more? If he was wrong, his
errors arose from his extreme modesty, his extreme veneration for the
subject to which he raised his thoughts.

In the last year of Edward Irving's life (1834), he was counselled by his
physician to pass the next winter in a milder climate--that "it was the
only safe thing for him." Prevented from ministering in his own church,
where "he had become an embarrassment," he travels into the rural places,
subdued and chastened by his weakness,--to the Wye and the Severn--to the
fine mountains and pleasant places of Wales. Sometimes he thinks himself
better. He quits London (forever) in the early part of September, and on
the 23d of that month he writes to his wife that he is "surely better, for
_his pulse has come to be under 100_." He passes by Cader Idris, and
Snowdon--by Bedgelert to Bangor, "a place of repose;" but gets wet whilst
viewing the Menai Bridge, and had "a fevered night;" yet he is able to
droop on to Liverpool. Thence (the love of his native land drawing him on)
he goes northwards, instead of to the south. He reaches Glasgow, where "he
thinks of organizing a church;" although Dr. Darling "decidedly says that
he cannot humanly live over the winter." Yet he still goes on with his
holy task; he writes "pastoral letters," and preaches, and prays, and
offers kind advice. His friends, from Kirkcaldy and elsewhere, come to see
him, where, "for a few weeks still, he is visible, about Glasgow. In the
sunshine--in a lonely street, his gaunt, gigantic figure rises feebly
against the light." At last he lies down on "the bed from which he is
never to rise;" his mind wanders, and his articulation becomes indistinct;
but he is occasionally understood, and is heard murmuring (in Hebrew)
parts of the 23d Psalm, "The Lord is my Shepherd: He leadeth me beside the
still waters." And thus gradually sinking, at the close of a gloomy Sunday
night in December, he dies.

Mr. Thomas Carlyle, his friend (the friend of his youth), has written an
eloquent epitaph upon him; not partial, for they differed in opinion--but
eloquent, and very touching. I read it over once or twice in every year.
Edward Irving's last words, according to his statement, were, "In life and
in death I am the Lord's." Carlyle then adds, "But for Irving, I had never
known what the communion of man with man means. He was the freest,
brotherliest, bravest human soul mine ever came in contact with; the best
man I have ever (after trial enough) found in this world, or now hope to

So Edward Irving went to the true and brave enthusiasts who have gone
before him. He died on his final Sabbath (7th December, 1834), and left
the world and all its troubles behind him.

[1] The first Essays of Elia were published by Taylor and Hessey under the
title "Elia," in 1823. The second Essays were, together with the "Popular
Fallacies," collected and published under the title of "The Last Essays of
Elia," by Moxon, in 1833.


_Specimen of Lamb's Humor.--Death of Mr. Norris.--Garrick Plays.--Letters
to Barton.--Opinions on Books.--Breakfast with Mr. N. P. Willis.--Moves to
Enfield.--Caricature of Lamb.--Albums and Acrostics.--Pains of Leisure.--
The Barton Correspondence.--Death of Hazlitt.--Munden's Acting and
Quitting the Stage.--Lamb becomes a Boarder.--Moves to Edmonton.--
Metropolitan Attachments.--Death of Coleridge.--Lamb's Fall and Death.--
Death of Mary Lamb.--POSTSCRIPT._

With the expiration of the "London Magazine," Lamb's literary career
terminated. A few trifling contributions to the "New Monthly," and other
periodicals, are scarcely sufficient to qualify this statement.

It may be convenient, in this place, to specify some of those examples of
humor and of jocose speech for which Charles Lamb in his lifetime was well
known. These (not his best thoughts) can be separated from the rest, and
may attract the notice of the reader, here and there, and relieve the
tameness of a not very eventful narrative.

It is possible to define wit (which, as Mr. Coleridge says, is
"impersonal"), and humor also; but it is not easy to distinguish the humor
of one man from that of all other humorists, so as to bring his special
quality clearly before the apprehension of the reader. Perhaps the best
(if not the most scientific) way might be to produce specimens of each. In
Charles Lamb's case, instances of his humor are to be found in his essays,
in his sayings (already partially reported), and throughout his letters,
where they are very frequent. They are often of the composite order, in
which humor, and wit, and (sometimes) pathos are intermingled. Sometimes
they merely exhibit the character of the man.

He once said of himself that his biography "would go into an epigram." His
sayings require greater space. Some of those which have been circulated
are apocryphal. The following are taken chiefly from his letters, and from
my own recollections.

In his exultation on being released from his thirty-four years of labor at
the India House, he says, "Had I a little son, I would christen him
'Nothing to do'" (This is in the "Superannuated Man.")

Speaking of Don Quixote, he calls him "the errant Star of Knighthood, made
more tender by eclipse."

On being asked by a schoolmistress for some sign indicative of her
calling, he recommended "The Murder of the Innocents."

I once said something in his presence which I thought possessed smartness.
He commended me with a stammer: "Very well, my dear boy, very well; Ben
(taking a pinch of snuff), Ben Jonson has said worse things than that-and
b-b-better." [1]

His young chimney-sweepers, "from their little pulpits (the tops of
chimneys) in the nipping air of a December morning, preach a lesson of
patience to mankind."

His saying to Martin Burney has been often repeated--"O Martin, if dirt
were trumps, what a hand you would hold!"

To Coleridge: "Bless you, old sophist, who next to human nature taught me
all the corruption I was capable of knowing."

To Mr. Gilman, a surgeon ("query Kill-man?"), he writes, "Coleridge is
very bad, but he wonderfully picks up, and his face, when he repeats his
verses, hath its ancient glory--an archangel a little damaged."

To Wordsworth (who was superfluously solemn) he writes, "Some d-d people
have come in, and I must finish abruptly. By d--d, I only mean deuced."

The second son of George the Second, it was said, had a very cold and
ungenial manner. Lamb stammered out in his defence that "this was very
natural in the Duke of Cu-Cum-ber-land."

To Bernard Barton, of a person of repute: "There must be something in him.
Such great names imply greatness. Which of us has seen Michael Angelo's
things? yet which of us disbelieves his greatness?"

To Mrs. H., of a person eccentric: "Why does not his guardian angel look
to him? He deserves one--may be he has tired him out."

"Charles," said Coleridge to Lamb, "I think you have heard me preach?" "I
n--n--never heard you do anything else," replied Lamb.

One evening Coleridge had consumed the whole time in talking of some
"regenerated" orthodoxy. Leigh Hunt, who was one of the listeners, on
leaving the house, expressed his surprise at the prodigality and intensity
of Coleridge's religious expressions. Lamb tranquillized him by "Ne-ne-
never mind what Coleridge says; he's full of fun."

There were, &c., &c., "and at the top of all, Hunger (eldest, strongest of
the Passions), predominant, breaking down the stony fences of shame."

The Bank, the India House, and other rich traders look insultingly on the
old deserted South Sea House, as on "their poor neighbor out of business."

To a Frenchman, setting up Voltaire's character in opposition to that of
Christ, Lamb asserted that "Voltaire was a very good Jesus Christ--_for
the French._"

Of a Scotchman: "His understanding is always at its meridian. Between the
affirmative and the negative there is no border land with him. You cannot
hover with him on the confines of truth."

On a book of Coleridge's nephew he writes, "I confess he has more of the
Sterne about him than the Sternhold. But he saddens into excellent sense
before the conclusion."

As to a monument being erected for Clarkson, in his lifetime, he opposes
it, and argues, "Goodness blows no trumpet, nor desires to have it blown.
We should be modest for a modest man."

"M. B. is on the top scale of my friendship's ladder, which an angel or
two is still climbing; and some, alas! descending."

A fine sonnet of his (The Gipsy's Malison) being refused publication, he
exclaimed, "Hang the age! I will write for Antiquity."

Once, whilst waiting in the Highgate stage, a woman came to the door, and
inquired in a stern voice, "Are you quite full inside?" "Yes, ma'am," said
Charles, in meek reply, "quite; that plateful of Mrs. Gilman's pudding has
quite filled us."

Mrs. K., after expressing her love for her young children, added,
tenderly, "And how do _you_ like babies, Mr. Lamb?" His answer, immediate,
almost precipitate, was "Boi-boi-boiled, ma'am."

Hood, tempting Lamb to dine with him, said, "We have a hare." "And many
friends?" inquired Lamb.

It being suggested that he would not sit down to a meal with the Italian
witnesses at the Queen's trial, Lamb rejected the imputation, asserting
that he would sit with anything except a hen or a tailor.

Of a man too prodigal of lampoons and verbal jokes, Lamb said,
threateningly, "I'll Lamb-pun him."

On two Prussians of the same name being accused of the same crime, it was
remarked as curious that they were not in any way related to each other.
"A mistake," said he; "they are cozens german."

An old lady, fond of her dissenting minister, wearied Lamb by the length
of her praises. "I speak, because I _know_ him well," said she.

"Well, I don't;" replied Lamb; "I don't; but d--n him, at a 'venture.'"

The Scotch, whom he did not like, ought, he said, to have double
punishment; and to have fire without brimstone.

Southey, in 1799, showed him a dull poem on a rose. Lamb's criticism was,
"Your rose is insipid: it has neither thorns nor sweetness."

A person sending an unnecessarily large sum with a lawyer's brief, Lamb
said "it was 'a fee simple.'"

Mr. H. C. Robinson, just called to the bar, tells him, exultingly, that he
is retained in a cause in the King's Bench. "Ah" (said Lamb), "the great
first cause, least understood."

Of a pun, Lamb says it is a "noble thing _per se_. It is entire. It fills
the mind; it is as perfect as a sonnet; better. It limps ashamed, in the
train and retinue of humor." [2]

Lamb's puns, as far as I recollect, were not frequent; and, except in the
case of a pun, it is difficult to divest a good saying of the facts
surrounding it without impoverishing the saying itself. Lamb's humor is
generally imbedded in the surrounding sense, and cannot often be
disentangled without injury.

I have said that the proprietorship of the "London Magazine," in the year
1821, became vested in Messrs. Taylor and Hessey, under whom it became a
social centre for the meeting of many literary men. The publication,
however, seems to have interfered with the ordinary calling of the
booksellers; and the sale was not therefore (I suppose) sufficiently
important to remunerate them for the disturbance of their general trade.
At all events, it was sold to Mr. Henry Southern, the editor of "The
Retrospective Review," at the expiration of 1825, after having been in
existence during five entire years. In Mr. Southern's hands, under a
different system of management, it speedily ceased.

In 1826 (January) Charles Lamb suffered great grief from the loss of a
very old friend, Mr. Norris. It may be remembered that he was one of the
two persons who went to comfort Lamb when his mother so suddenly died. Mr.
Norris had been one of the officers of the Inner Temple or Christ's
Hospital, and had been intimate with the Lambs for many years; and
Charles, when young, used always to spend his Christmases with him. "He
was my friend and my father's friend," Lamb writes, "all the life I can
remember. I seem to have made foolish friendships ever since. Old as I am,
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."

It was after his death that Lamb once more resorted to the British Museum,
which he had been in the habit of frequenting formerly, when his first
"Dramatic Specimens" were published. Now he went there to make other
extracts from the old plays. These were entitled "The Garrick Plays," and
were bestowed upon Mr. Hone, who was poor, and were by him published in
his "Every Day Book." Subsequently they were collected by Charles himself,
and formed a supplement to the earlier "Specimens." Lamb's labors in this
task were by no means trivial. "I am now going through a course of
reading" (of old plays), he writes; "I have two thousand to go through."

Lamb's correspondence with his Quaker friend, Bernard Barton ("the busy
B," as Hood called him), whose knowledge of the English drama was confined
to Shakespeare and Miss Baillie, went on constantly. His letters to this
gentleman comprised a variety of subjects, on most of which Charles offers
him good advice. Sometimes they are less personal, as where he tells him
that "six hundred have been sold of Hood's book, while Sion's songs do not
disperse so quickly;" and where he enters (very ably) into the defects and
merits of Martin's pictures, Belshazzar and Joshua, and ventures an
opinion as to what Art should and should not be. He is strenuous in
advising him not to forsake the Bank (where he is a clerk), and throw
himself on what the chance of employ by booksellers would afford. "Throw
yourself, rather, from the steep Tarpeian rock, headlong upon the iron
spikes. Keep to your bank, and your bank will keep you. Trust not to the
Public," he says. Then, referring to his own previous complaints of
official toil, he adds, "I retract all my fond complaints. Look on them as
lovers' quarrels. I was but half in earnest. Welcome, dead timber of a
desk that gives me life. A little grumbling is wholesome for the spleen;
but in my inner heart I do approve and embrace this our close but
unharassing way of life."

Lamb's opinions on books, as well as on conduct, making some deduction for
his preference of old writers, is almost always sound. When he is writing
to Mr. Walter Wilson, who is editing De Foe, he says of the famous author
of "Robinson Crusoe,"--

"In appearance of _truth_ his works exceed any works of fiction that I am
acquainted with. It is perfect illusion. It is like reading evidence in a
court of justice. There is all the minute detail of a log-book in it.
Facts are repeated in varying phrases till you cannot choose but believe
them." His liking for books (rather than his criticism on them) is shown
frequently in his letters. "O! to forget Fielding, Steele, &c., and to
read 'em _new_," he says. Of De Foe, "His style is everywhere beautiful,
but plain and homely." Again, he speaks of "Fielding, Smollett, Sterne,--
great Nature's stereotypes." "Milton," he says, "almost requires a solemn
service of music to be played before you enter upon him." Of Shenstone he
speaks as "the dear author of the Schoolmistress;" and so on from time to
time, as occasion prompts, of Bunyan, Isaac Walton, and Jeremy Taylor, and
Fuller, and Sir Philip Sidney, and others, in affectionate terms. These
always relate to English authors. Lamb, although a good Latinist, had not
much of that which ordinarily passes under the name of Learning. He had
little knowledge of languages, living or dead. Of French, German, Italian,
&c., he knew nothing; and in Greek his acquirements were very moderate.
These children of the tongues were never adopted by him; but in his own
Saxon English he was a competent scholar, a lover, nice, discriminative,
and critical.

The most graphic account of Lamb at a somewhat later period of his life
appears in Mr. N. P. Willis's "Pencillings by the Way." He had been
invited by a gentleman in the Temple, Mr. R---- (Robinson?), to meet
Charles Lamb and his sister at breakfast. The Lambs lived at that time "a
little way out of London, and were not quite punctual. At last they enter
--"the gentleman in black small-clothes and gaiters, short and very slight
in person, his head set on his shoulders with a thoughtful forward bent,
his hair just sprinkled with gray, a beautiful deep-set eye, an aquiline
nose, and a very indescribable mouth. Whether it expressed most humor or
feeling, good nature or a kind of whimsical peevishness, or twenty other
things which passed over it by turns, I cannot in the least be certain."

This is Mr. Willis's excellent picture of Lamb at that period. The guest
places a large arm-chair for Mary Lamb; Charles pulls it away, saying
gravely, "Mary, don't take it; it looks as if you were going to have a
tooth drawn." Miss Lamb was at that time very hard of hearing, and Charles
took advantage of her temporary deafness to impute various improbabilities
to her, which, however, were so obvious as to render any denial or
explanation unnecessary. Willis told Charles that he had bought a copy of
the "Elia" in America, in order to give to a friend. "What did you give
for it?" asked Lamb. "About seven and sixpence." "Permit me to pay you
that," said Lamb, counting out the money with earnestness on the table; "I
never yet wrote anything that could sell. I am the publisher's ruin. My
last poem won't sell,--not a copy. Have you seen it?" No; Willis had not.
"It's only eighteenpence, and I'll give you sixpence towards it," said
Lamb; and he described where Willis would find it, "sticking up in a shop
window in the Strand." Lamb ate nothing, but inquired anxiously for some
potted fish, which Mr. R---- used to procure for him. There was none in
the house; he therefore asked to see the cover of the pot which had
contained it; he thought it would do him good. It was brought, and on it
was a picture of the fish. Lamb kissed it, and then left the table, and
began to wander about the room, with an uncertain step, &c.

This visit must have taken place, I suppose, at or after the time when
Lamb was living at Colebrook Cottage; and the breakfast took place
probably in Mr. Henry Crabbe Robinson's chambers in the Temple, where I
first met Wordsworth.

In the year 1827 Lamb moved into a small house at Enfield, a "gamboge-
colored house," he calls it, where I and other friends went to dine with
him; but it was too far from London, except for rare visits.--It was
rather before that time that a very clever caricature of him had been
designed and engraved ("scratched on copper," as the artist termed it) by
Mr. Brook Pulham. It is still extant; and although somewhat ludicrous and
hyperbolical in the countenance and outline, it certainly renders a
likeness of Charles Lamb. The nose is monstrous, and the limbs are dwarfed
and attenuated. Lamb himself, in a letter to Bernard Barton (10th August,
1827), adverts to it in these terms: "'Tis a little sixpenny thing--too
like by half--in which the draughtsman has done his best to avoid
flattery." Charles's hatred for annuals and albums was continually
breaking out: "I die of albophobia." "I detest to appear in an annual," he
writes; "I hate the paper, the type, the gloss, the dandy plates."
"Coleridge is too deep," again he says, "among the prophets, the gentleman
annuals." "If I take the wings of the morning, and fly to the uttermost
parts of the earth, there will albums be." To Southey he writes about this
time, "I have gone lately into the acrostic line. I find genius declines
with me; but I get clever." The reader readily appreciates the distinction
which the humorist thus cleverly (more than cleverly) makes. In proof of
his subdued quality, however, under the acrostical tyranny, I quote two
little unpublished specimens addressed to the Misses Locke, whom he had
never seen.

    To M. L. [Mary Locke.]

    Must I write with pen unwilling,
    And describe those graces killing,
    Rightly, which I never saw?
    Yes--it is the album's law.

    Let me then invention strain,
    On your excelling grace to feign.
    Cold is fiction. I believe it
    Kindly as I did receive it;
    Even as I. F.'s tongue did weave it.

    To S. L. [Sarah Locke.]

    Shall I praise a face unseen,
    And extol a fancied mien,
    Rave on visionary charm,
    And from shadows take alarm?
    Hatred hates without a cause,

    Love may love without applause,
    Or, without a reason given,
    Charmed be with unknown heaven.
    Keep the secret, though unmocked,
    Ever in your bosom Locked.

After the transfer to Mr. Southern of the "London Magazine," Lamb was
prevailed upon to allow some short papers to be published in the "New
Monthly Magazine."

They were entitled "Popular Fallacies," and were subsequently published
conjointly with the "Elia Essays." He also sent brief contributions to the
"Athenaeum" and the "Englishman," and wrote some election squibs for
Serjeant Wilde, during his then contest for "Newark." But his animal
spirits were not so elastic as formerly, when his time was divided between
official work and companionable leisure; the latter acting as a wholesome
relief to his mind when wearied by labor.

On this subject hear him speaking to Bernard Barton, to whom, as to
others, he had formerly complained of his harassing duties at the India
House, and of his delightful prospect of leisure. Now he writes, "Deadly
long are the days, with but half an hour's candle-light and no fire-light.
The streets, the shops remain, but old friends are gone." "I assure you"
(he goes on) "_no_ work is worse than overwork. The mind preys on itself--
the most unwholesome food. I have ceased to care almost for anybody." To
remedy this tedium, he tries visiting; for the houses of his old friends
were always open to him, and he had a welcome everywhere. But this
visiting will not revive him. His spirits descended to zero--below it. He
is convinced that happiness is not to be found abroad. It is better to go
"to my hole at Enfield, and hide like a sick cat in my corner." Again he
says, "Home, I have none. Never did the waters of heaven pour down on a
forlornes head. What I can do, and overdo, is to walk. I am a sanguinary
murderer of time. But the snake is vital. Your forlorn--C. L."

These are his meditations in 1829, four years only after he had rushed
abroad, full of exaltation and delight, from the prison of a "work-a-day"
life, into the happy gardens of boundless leisure. Time, which was once
his friend, had become his enemy. His letters, which were always full of
goodness, generally full of cheerful humor, sink into discontent. "I have
killed an hour or two with this poor scrawl," he writes. It is unnecessary
to inflict upon the reader all the points of the obvious moral that
obtrudes itself at this period of Charles Lamb's history. It is clear that
the Otiosa Eternitas was pressing upon his days, and he did not know how
to find relief. Although a good Latin scholar,--indeed, fond of writing
letters in Latin,--he did not at this period resort to classical
literature. I heard him indeed once (and once only) quote the well-known
Latin verse from the Georgics, "O Fortunatos," &c., but generally he
showed himself careless about Greeks and Romans; and when (as Mr. Moxon
states) "a traveller brought him some acorns from an ilex that grew over
the tomb of Virgil, he valued them so little that he threw them at the
hackney coachmen as they passed by his window."

I have been much impressed by Lamb's letters to Bernard Barton, which are
numerous, and which, taken altogether, are equal to any which he has
written. The letters to Coleridge do not exhibit so much care or thought;
nor those to Wordsworth or Manning, nor to any others of his intellectual
equals. These correspondents could think and speculate for themselves, and
they were accordingly left to their own resources. "The Volsces have much
corn." But Bernard Barton was in a different condition; he was poor. His
education had been inferior, his range of reading and thinking had been
very confined, his knowledge of the English drama being limited to
Shakespeare and Miss Baillie. He seems, however, to have been an amiable
man, desirous of cultivating the power, such as it was, which he
possessed; and Lamb therefore lavished upon him--the poor Quaker clerk of
a Suffolk banker--all that his wants or ambition required; excellent
worldly counsel, sound thoughts upon literature and art, critical advice
on his own verses, letters which in their actual value surpass the wealth
of many more celebrated collections. Lamb's correspondence with Barton,
whom he had first known in 1822, continued until his death.

In 1830 (September 18th) Hazlitt died. It is unnecessary to enter into any
enumeration of his remarkable qualities. They were known to all his
friends, and to some of his enemies. In Sir Edward Lytton's words, "He
went down to the dust without having won the crown for which he so bravely
struggled. He who had done so much for the propagation of thought, left no
stir upon the surface when he sank." I will not in this place attempt to
weave the moral which nevertheless lies hid in his unrequited life. At
that time the number of Lamb's old intimates was gradually diminished. The
eternally recurring madness of his sister was more frequent. The
hopelessness of it--if hope indeed ever existed--was more palpable, more
depressing. His own spring of mind was fast losing its power of rebound.
He felt the decay of the active principle, and now confined his efforts to
morsels of criticism, to verses for albums, and small contributions to
periodicals, which (excepting only the "Popular Fallacies") it has not
been thought important enough to reprint. To the editor of the
"Athenaeum," indeed, he laments sincerely over the death of Munden. This
was in February, 1832, and was a matter that touched his affections. "He
was not an actor" (he writes), "but something better." To a reader of the
present day--even to a contemporary of Lamb himself--there was something
almost amounting to extravagance in the terms of his admiration. Yet
Munden was, in his way, a remarkable man; and although he was an actor in
farce, he often stood aloof and beyond the farce itself. The play was a
thing merely on which to hang his own conceptions. These did not arise
from the drama, but were elsewhere cogitated, and were interleaved, as it
were, with the farce or comedy which served as an excuse for their
display. The actor was to all intents and purposes _sui generis_.

To speak of my own impressions, Munden did not affect me much in some of
his earlier performances; for then he depended on the play. Afterwards,
when he took the matter into his own hands, and created personages who
owed little or nothing to the playwright, then he became an inventor. He
rose with the occasion. _Sic ivit ad astra_. In the drama of "Modern
Antiques," especially, space was allowed him for his movements. The words
were nothing. The prosperity of the piece depended exclusively on the
genius of the actor. Munden enacted the part of an old man credulous
beyond ordinary credulity; and when he came upon the stage there was in
him an almost sublime look of wonder, passing over the scene and people
around him, and settling apparently somewhere beyond the moon. What he
believed in, improbable as it was to mere terrestrial visions, you at once
conceived to be quite possible,--to be true. The sceptical idiots of the
play pretend to give him a phial nearly full of water. He is assured that
this contains Cleopatra's tear. Well; who can disprove it? Munden
evidently recognized it. "What a large tear!" he exclaimed, Then they
place in his hands a druidical harp, which to vulgar eyes might resemble a
modern gridiron. He touches the chords gently; "pipes to the spirit
ditties of no tone;" and you imagine Aeolian strains. At last William
Tell's cap is produced. The people who affect to cheat him, apparently cut
the rim from a modern hat, and place the skull-cap in his hands; and then
begins the almost finest piece of acting that I ever witnessed. Munden
accepts the accredited cap of Tell with confusion and reverence. He places
it slowly and solemnly on his head, growing taller in the act of crowning
himself. Soon he swells into the heroic size,--a great archer,--and enters
upon his dreadful task. He weighs the arrow carefully; he tries the
tension of the bow, the elasticity of the string; and finally, after a
most deliberate aim, he permits the arrow to fly, and looks forward at the
same time with intense anxiety. You hear the twang, you see the hero's
knitted forehead, his eagerness; you tremble: at last you mark his calmer
brow, his relaxing smile, and are satisfied that the son is saved! It is
difficult to paint in words this extraordinary performance, which I have
several times seen; but you feel that it is transcendent. You think of
Sagittarius, in the broad circle of the Zodiac; you recollect that archery
is as old as Genesis; you are reminded that Ishmael, the son of Hagar,
wandered about the Judaean deserts, and became an archer.

The old actor is now dead; but on his last performance, when he was to act
Sir Robert Bramble, on the night of his taking final leave of the stage,
Lamb greatly desired to be present. He had always loved the actors,
especially the old actors, from his youth; and this was the last of the
Romans. Accordingly Lamb and his sister went to the Drury Lane; but there
being no room in the ordinary parts of the house (boxes or pit), Munden
obtained places for his two visitors in the orchestra, close to the stage.
He saw them carefully ushered in, and well posted; then acted with his
usual vigor, and no doubt enjoyed the plaudits wrung from a thousand
hands. Afterwards, in the interval between the comedy and the farce, he
was seen to appear cautiously, diffidently, at the low door of the
orchestra (where the musicians enter), and beckon to his friends, who then
perceived that he was armed with a mighty pot of porter, for their
refreshment. Lamb, grateful for the generous liquid, drank heartily, but
not ostentatiously, and returned the pot of beer to Munden, who had waited
to remove it from fastidious eyes. He then retreated into the farce; and
then he retired--forever.

After Munden's retirement Lamb almost entirely forsook the theatre; and
his habits became more solitary. He had not relinquished society, nor
professedly narrowed the circle of his friends. But insensibly his
visitors became fewer in number, and came less frequently. Some had died;
some had grown old; some had increased occupation to care for. His old
Wednesday evenings had ceased, and he had placed several miles of road
between London (the residence of their families) and his own home. The
weight of years, indeed, had its effect in pressing down his strength and
buoyancy; his spirit no longer possessed its old power of rebound. Even
the care of housekeeping (not very onerous, one would suppose) troubled
Charles and his sister so much, that they determined to abandon it. This
occurred in 1829. Then they became boarders and lodgers, with an old
person (T. W.), who was their next-door neighbor at Enfield; and of him
Lamb has given an elaborate description. T. W., his new landlord or
housekeeper, he says, is seventy years old; "he has something, under a
competence;" he has one joke, and forty pounds a year, upon which he
retires in a green old age: he laughs when he hears a joke, and when
(which is much oftener) he hears it not. Having served the greater parish
offices, Lamb and his sister become greater, being _his_ lodgers, than
they were when substantial householders. The children of the village
venerate him for his gentility, but wonder also at him for a gentle
indorsation of the person, not amounting to a hump, or, if one, then like
that of the buffalo, and coronative of as mild qualities.

Writing to Wordsworth (and speaking as a great landed proprietor), he
says, "We have ridded ourselves of the dirty acres; settled down into poor
boarders and lodgers; confiding ravens." The distasteful country, however,
still remains, and the clouds still hang over it. "Let not the lying poets
be believed, who entice men from the cheerful streets," he writes. The
country, he thinks, does well enough when he is amongst his books, by the
fire and with candle-light; but day and the green fields return and
restore his natural antipathies; then he says, "In a calenture I plunge
into St. Giles's." So Lamb and his sister leave their comfortable little
house, and subside into the rooms of the Humpback. Their chairs, and
tables, and beds also retreat; all except the ancient bookcase, full of
his "ragged veterans." This I saw, years after Charles Lamb's death, in
the possession of his sister, Mary. "All our furniture has faded," he
writes, "under the auctioneer's hammer; going for nothing, like the
tarnished frippery of the prodigal." Four years afterwards (in 1833) Lamb
moves to his last home, in Church Street, Edmonton, where he is somewhat
nearer to his London friends.

Very curious was the antipathy of Charles to objects that are generally so
pleasant to other men. It was not a passing humor, but a life-long
dislike. He admired the trees, and the meadows, and murmuring streams in
poetry. I have heard him repeat some of Keats's beautiful lines in the Ode
to the Nightingale, about the "pastoral eglantine," with great delight.
But that was another thing: that was an object in its proper place: that
was a piece of art. Long ago he had admitted that the mountains of
Cumberland were grand objects "to look at;" but (as he said) "the houses
in streets were the places to live in." I imagine that he would no more
have received the former as an equivalent for his own modest home, than he
would have accepted a portrait as a substitute for a friend. He was,
beyond all other men whom I have met, essentially metropolitan. He loved
"the sweet security of streets," as he says: "I would set up my tabernacle

In the spring of 1834, Coleridge's health began to decline. Charles had
written to him (in reply) on the 14th April, at which time his friend had
been evidently unwell; for Lamb says that he is glad to see that he could
write so long a letter. He was indeed very ill; and no further personal
intercourse (I believe) took place between Charles and his old
schoolfellow. Coleridge lay ill for months; but his faculties seem to have
survived his bodily decay. He died on the 25th July, 1834; yet on the 5th
of that month he was able to discourse with his nephew on Dryden and
Barrow, on Lord Brook, and Fielding, and Richardson, without any apparent
diminution of judgment. Even on the 10th (a fortnight only before his
death) there was no symptom of speedy dissolution: he then said, "The
scenes of my early life have stolen into my mind like breezes blown from
the Spice Islands." Charles's sorrow was unceasing. "He was my fifty
years' old friend" (he says) "without a dissension. I cannot think without
an ineffectual reference to him." Lamb's frequent exclamations, "Coleridge
is dead! Coleridge is dead!" have been already noticed.

And now the figures of other old friends of Charles Lamb, gradually (one
by one), slip out of sight. Still, in his later letters are to be found
glimpses of Wordsworth and Southey, of Rogers and Hood, of Cary (with whom
his intimacy increases); especially may be noted Miss Isola, whom he
tenderly regarded, and after whose marriage (then left more alone) he
retreats to his last retreat, in Church Street, Edmonton.

From details let us escape into a more general narrative. The latest facts
need not be painfully enumerated. There is little left, indeed, to
particularize. Mary's health fluctuates, perhaps, more frequently than
heretofore. At one time she is well and happy; at another her mind becomes
turbid, and she is then sheltered, as usual, under her brother's care. The
last Essays of Elia are published;--friends visit him;--and he
occasionally visits them in London. He dines with Talfourd and Cary. The
sparks which are brought out are as bright as ever, although the splendor
is not so frequent. Apparently the bodily strength, never great, but
sufficient to move him pleasantly throughout life, seemed to flag a
little. Yet he walks as usual. He and his sister "scramble through the
Inferno:" (as he says to Gary), "Mary's chief pride in it was, that she
should some day brag of it to you." Then he and Mary became very poorly.
He writes, "We have had a sick child, sleeping, or not sleeping, next to
me, with a pasteboard partition between, who killed my sleep. My
bedfellows are Cough and Cramp: we sleep three in a bed. Don't come yet to
this house of pest and age." This is in 1833. At the end of that year (in
December) he writes (once more humorously) to Rogers, expressing, amongst
other things, his love for that fine artist, Stothard: "I met the dear old
man, and it was sublime to see him sit, deaf, and enjoy all that was going
on mirthful with the company. He reposed upon the many graceful and many
fantastic images he had created." His last letter, written to Mrs. Dyer on
the day after his fall, was an effort to recover a book of Mr. Cary, which
had been mislaid or lost, so anxious was he always that every man should
have his own.

In December, 1834, the history of Charles Lamb comes suddenly to a close.
He had all along had a troubled day: now came the night. His spirits had
previously been tolerably cheerful; reading and conversing, as heretofore,
with his friends, on subjects that were familiar to him. There was little
manifest alteration or falling off in his condition of mind or body. He
took his morning walks as usual. One day he stumbled against a stone, and
fell. His face was slightly wounded; but no fatal (or even alarming)
consequence was foreboded. Erysipelas, however, followed the wound, and
his strength (never robust) was not sufficient to enable him to combat
successfully that inflammatory and exhausting disease. He suffered no pain
(I believe); and when the presence of a clergyman was suggested to him, he
made no remark, but understood that his life was in danger; he was quite
calm and collected, quite resigned. At last his voice began to fail, his
perceptions became confused, and he sank gradually, very gradually, until
the 27th of December, 1834; and then--he died! It was the fading away or
disappearance of life, rather than a violent transit into another world.

He died at Edmonton; not, as has been supposed, at Enfield, to which place
he never returned as to a place of residence, after he had once quitted

It is not true that he was ever deranged, or subjected to any restraint,
shortly before his death. There never was the least symptom of mental
disturbance in him after the time (1795-6) when he was placed for a few
weeks in Hoxton Asylum, to allay a little nervous irritation. If it were
necessary to confirm this assertion, which is known to me from personal
observation and other incontrovertible evidence, I would adduce ten of his
published letters (in 1833) and several in 1834; one of them bearing date
only four days before his death. All these documents afford ample
testimony of his clear good sense and kind heart, some of them, indeed,
being tinged with his usual humor.

Charles Lamb was fifty-nine years old at his death; of the same age as
Cromwell, between whom and himself there was of course no other
similitude. A few years before, when he was about to be released from his
wearisome toil at the India House, he said exultingly, that he was passing
out of Time into Eternity. But now came the true Eternity; the old
Eternity,--without change or limit; in which all men surrender their
leisure, as well as their labor; when their sensations and infirmities
(sometimes harassing enough) cease and are at rest. No more anxiety for
the debtor; no more toil for the worker. The rich man's ambition, the poor
man's pains, at last are over. _Hic Jacet_. That "forlorn" inscription is
the universal epitaph. What a world of moral, what speculations, what
pathetic wishes, and what terrible dreams, lie enshrouded in that one
final issue, which we call--DEATH.

To him who never gave pain to a human being, whose genius yielded nothing
but instruction and delight, was awarded a calm and easy death. No man, it
is my belief, was ever loved or lamented more sincerely than Charles Lamb.
His sister (his elder by a decade) survived him for the space of thirteen

By strict economy, without meanness; with much unpretending hospitality;
with frequent gifts and lendings, and without any borrowing,--he
accumulated, during his thirty-three years of constant labor, the moderate
sum of two thousand pounds. No more. That was the sum, I believe, which
was eventually shared amongst his legatees. His other riches were gathered
together and deposited elsewhere; in the memory of those who loved him,--
and there were many of them,--or amongst others of our Anglo-Saxon race,
whose minds he has helped to enrich and soften.

The property of Charles Lamb, or so much as might be wanted for the
purpose, was by his will directed to be applied towards the maintenance
and comfort of his sister; and, subject to this primary object, it was
vested in trustees for the benefit of Miss Isola--Mrs. Moxon.

Mary Lamb's comforts were supplied, with anxiety and tenderness,
throughout the thirteen years during which she survived her brother. I
went to see her, after her brother's death; but her frequent illnesses did
not render visits at all times welcome or feasible. She then resided in
Alpha Road, Saint John's Wood, under the care of an experienced nurse.
There was a twilight of consciousness in her,--scarcely more,--at times;
so that perhaps the mercy of God saved her from full knowledge of her
great loss. Charles, who had given up all his days for her protection and
benefit,--who had fought the great battle of life so nobly,--left her "for
that unknown and silent shore," where, it is hoped, the brother and sister
will renew the love which once united them on earth, and made their lives
holy. Mary Lamb died on the 2Oth May, 1847; and the brother and sister now
lie near each other (in the same grave) in the churchyard of Edmonton, in

[1] This, with a small variation, is given in Mr. Thomas Moore's
autobiography. I suppose I must have repeated it to him, and that he
forgot the precise words.

[2] I fear that I have not, in all the foregoing instances, set forth with
sufficient precision the grounds or premises upon which the jests were
founded. There were, moreover, various other sayings of Lamb, which do not
come into the above catalogue; as where--when enjoying a pipe with Dr.
Parr, that Divine inquired how he came to acquire the love of smoking so
much, he replied, "I toiled after it as some people do after virtue."--
When Godwin was expatiating on the benefit of unlimited freedom of
thought, especially in matters of religion, Lamb, who did not like this,
interrupted him by humming the little child's song of "Old Father Longlegs
won't say his prayers," adding, violently, "_Throw him down stairs!_"--He
consoles Mr. Crabbe Robinson, suffering under tedious rheumatism, by
writing, "Your doctor seems to keep you under the long cure."--To
Wordsworth, in order to explain that his friend A was in good health, he
writes, "A is well; he is proof against weather, ingratitude, meat
underdone, and every weapon of fate." The story of Lamb replying to some
one, who insisted very strenuously on some uninteresting circumstances
being "a matter of fact," by saying that _he_ was "a matter of lie" man,
is like Leigh Hunt, who, in opposing the frequent confessions of "I'm in
love," asserted, in a series of verses, that he was "In hate."--Charles
hated noise, and fuss, and fine words, but never hated any person. Once,
when he had said, "I hate Z," some one present remonstrated with him:
"Why, you have never seen him." "No," replied Lamb, "certainly not; I
never could hate any man that I have once seen."--Being asked how he felt
when amongst the lakes and mountains of Cumberland, he replied that he was
obliged to think of the Ham and Beef shop near Saint Martin's Lane; this
was in order to bring down his thoughts from their almost too painful
elevation to the sober regions of every-day life.

In the foregoing little history, I have set forth such facts as tend, in
my opinion, to illustrate my friend's character. One anecdote I have
omitted, and it should not be forgotten. Lamb, one day, encountered a
small urchin loaded with a too heavy package of grocery. It caused him to
tremble and stop. Charles inquired where he was going, took (although
weak) the load upon his own shoulder, and managed to carry it to
Islington, the place of destination. Finding that the purchaser of the
grocery was a female, he went with the urchin before her, and expressed a
hope that she would intercede with the poor boy's master, in order to
prevent his being overweighted in future. "Sir," said the dame, after the
manner of Tisiphone, frowning upon him, "I buy my sugar, and have nothing
to do with the man's manner of sending it." Lamb at once perceived the
character of the purchaser, and taking off his hat, said, humbly, "Then I
hope, ma'am, you'll give me a drink of small beer." This was of course
refused. He afterwards called upon the grocer, on the boy's behalf--with
what effect I do not know.


I have thus told, as far as my ability permits, the story of the life of
Charles Lamb.

I have not ventured to deduce any formidable moral from it. Like Lamb
himself, I have great dislike to ostentatious precepts and impertinent
lessons. Facts themselves should disclose their own virtues. A man who is
able to benefit by a lesson will, no doubt, discover it, under any husk or
disguise, before it is stripped and laid bare--to the kernel.

Besides, too much teaching may disagree with the reader. It is apt to
harden the heart, wearying the attention, and mortifying the self-love.
Such disturbances of the system interfere with the digestion of a truth.

Even Gulliver is sometimes too manifestly didactic. His adventures, simply
told, would have emitted spontaneously a luminous atmosphere, and need not
have been distilled into brilliant or pungent drops.

No history is barren of good. Even from the foregoing narrative some
benefit may be gleaned, some sympathy may be excited, which naturally
forms itself into a lesson.

Let us look at it cursorily.

Charles Lamb was born almost in penury, and he was taught by charity. Even
when a boy he was forced to labor for his bread. In the first opening of
manhood a terrible calamity fell upon him, in magnitude fit to form the
mystery or centre of an antique drama. He had to dwell, all his days, with
a person incurably mad. From poverty he passed at once to unpleasant toil
and perpetual fear. These were the sole changes in his fortune. Yet he
gained friends, respect, a position, and great sympathy from all; showing
what one poor man of genius, under grievous misfortune, may do, if he be
courageous and faithful to the end.

Charles Lamb never preached nor prescribed, but let his own actions tell
their tale and produce their natural effects; neither did he deal out
little apothegms or scraps of wisdom, derived from other minds. But he
succeeded; and in every success there must be a mainstay of right or truth
to support it; otherwise it will eventually fail.

It is true that in his essays and numerous letters many of his sincere
thoughts and opinions are written down. These, however, are written down
simply, and just as they occur, without any special design. Some persons
exhibit only their ingenuity, or learning. It is not every one who is
able, like the licentiate Pedro Garcias, to deposit his wealth of soul by
the road-side.

Like all persons of great intellectual sensibility, Lamb responded to all
impressions. To sympathize with Tragedy or Comedy only, argues a limited
capacity. The mind thus constructed is partially lame or torpid. One
hemisphere has never been reached.

It should not be forgotten that Lamb possessed one great advantage. He
lived and died amongst _his equals_. This was what enabled him to exercise
his natural strength, as neither a parasite nor a patron can. It is
marvellous how freedom of thought operates; what strength it gives to the
system; with what lightness and freshness it endues the spirit. Then, he
was made stronger by trouble; made wiser by grief.

I have not attempted to fix the precise spot in which Charles Lamb is to
shine hereafter in the firmament of letters. I am not of sufficient
magnitude to determine his astral elevation--where he is to dwell--between
the sun Shakespeare and the twinkling Zoilus. That must be left to time.
Even the fixed stars at first waver and coruscate, and require long
seasons for their consummation and final settlement.

Whenever he differs with us in opinion (as he does occasionally), let us
not hastily pronounce him to be wrong. It is wise, as well as modest, not
to show too much eagerness to adjust the ideas of all other thinkers to
the (sometimes low) level of our own.


In the following pages will be found the opinions of several distinguished
authors on the subject of Charles Lamb's genius and character, and also a
contribution (by himself) to the _Athenaeum_, made in January, 1835. All
the writers were contemporary with Lamb, and were personally intimate with
him. The extracts may be accepted as corroborative, in some degree, of the
opinions set forth in the foregoing Memoir.


[_From Hazlitt's "Spirit of the Age." Title, "Elia."_]

Mr. Lamb has the very soul of an antiquarian, as this implies a reflecting
humanity. The film of the past hovers forever before him. He is shy,
sensitive, the reverse of everything coarse, vulgar, obtrusive, and
commonplace. His spirit clothes itself in the garb of elder time;
homelier, but more durable. He is borne along with no pompous paradoxes,
shines in no glittering tinsel of a fashionable phraseology, is neither
fop nor sophist. He has none of the turbulence or froth of new-fangled
opinions. His style runs pure and clear, though it may often take an
underground course, or be conveyed through old-fashioned conduits....
There is a fine tone of chiaro-scuro, a moral perspective in his writings.
He delights to dwell on that which is fresh to the eye of memory; he
yearns after and covets what soothes the frailty of human nature. That
touches him most nearly which is withdrawn to a certain distance, which
verges on the borders of oblivion; that piques and provokes his fancy most
which is hid from a superficial glance. That which, though gone by, is
still remembered, is in his view more genuine, and has given more signs
that it will live, than a thing of yesterday, which may be forgotten to-
morrow. Death has in this sense the spirit of life in it; and the shadowy
has to our author something substantial.

Mr. Lamb has a distaste to new faces, to new books, to new buildings, to
new customs. He is shy of all imposing appearances, of all assumptions of
self-importance, of all adventitious ornaments, of all mechanical
advantages, even to a nervous excess. It is not merely that he does not
rely upon, or ordinarily avail himself of them; he holds them in
abhorrence: he utterly abjures and discards them. He disdains all the
vulgar artifices of authorship, all the cant of criticism and helps of

His affections revert to and settle on the past; but then even this must
have something personal and local in it to interest him deeply and
thoroughly. He pitches his tent in the suburbs of existing manners, and
brings down his account of character to the few straggling remains of the
last generation. No one makes the tour of our southern metropolis, or
describes the manners of the last age, so well as Mr. Lamb,--with so fine,
and yet so formal an air. How admirably he has sketched the former inmates
of the South Sea House; what "fine fretwork he makes of their double and
single entries!"

With what a firm yet subtle pencil he has embodied Mrs. Battle's opinions
on Whist! With what well-disguised humor he introduces us to his
relations, and how freely he serves up his friends!

The streets of London are his fairy-land, teeming with wonder, with life
and interest to his retrospective glance, as it did to the eager eye of
childhood: he has contrived to weave its tritest traditions into a bright
and endless romance.

[_From Hazlitt's "Table Talk,"_ Vol. II.]

Mr. Lamb is the only imitator of old English style I can read with
pleasure; and he is so thoroughly imbued with the spirit of his authors,
that the idea of imitation 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 arising from an antiquated style and dress. The matter is
completely his own, though the manner is assumed. Perhaps his ideas are
altogether so marked and individual, as to require their point and
pungency to be neutralized by the affectation of a singular but
traditional form of conveyance. Tricked out in the prevailing costume,
they would probably seem more startling and out of the way. The old
English authors, Burton, Fuller, Coryate, Sir Thomas Browne, are a kind of
mediators between us and the more eccentric and whimsical modern,
reconciling us to his peculiarities. I must confess that what I like best
of his papers under the signature of Elia (still I do not presume, amidst
such excellence, to decide what is most excellent) is the account of Mrs.
Battle's "Opinions on Whist," which is also the most free from obsolete
allusions and turns of expression,--

"A well of native English undefiled."

To those acquainted with his admired prototypes, these Essays of the
ingenious and highly gifted author have the same sort of charm and relish
that Erasmus's "Colloquies," or a fine piece of modern Latin, have to the
classical scholar.--"_On Familiar Style_."

[_Hazlitt's "Plain Speaker,"_ Vol. I. p. 62.]

At Lamb's we used to have lively skirmishes at their Thursday evening
parties. I doubt whether the Small Coal-man's musical parties could exceed
them. O for the pen of John Buncle to consecrate a _petit souvenir_ to
their memory! There was Lamb himself, the most delightful, the most
provoking, the most witty and sensible of men. He always made the best pun
and the best remark in the course of the evening. His serious
conversation, like his serious writing, is his best. No one ever stammered
out such fine, piquant, deep, eloquent things, in half a dozen sentences,
as he does. His jests scald like tears, and he probes a question with a
play upon words. What a keen, laughing, hair-brained vein of homefelt
truth! What choice venom! How often did we cut into the haunch of letters!
How we skimmed the cream of criticism! How we picked out the marrow of
authors! Need I go over the names? They were but the old, everlasting set
--Milton and Shakespeare, Pope and Dryden, Steele and Addison, Swift and
Gay, Fielding, Smollett, Sterne, Richardson, Hogarth's prints, Claude's
landscapes, the Cartoons at Hampton Court, and all those things that,
having once been, must ever be. The Scotch Novels had not then been heard
of: so we said nothing about them. In general we were hard upon the
moderns. The author of the "Rambler" was only tolerated in Boswell's Life
of him; and it was as much as any one could do to edge in a word for
Junius. Lamb could not bear _Gil Blas_: this was a fault. I remember the
greatest triumph I ever had was in persuading him, after some years'
difficulty, that Fielding was better than Smollett. On one occasion he was
for making out a list of persons famous in history that one would wish to
see again, at the head of whom were Pontius Pilate, Sir Thomas Browne, and
Dr. Faustus; but we black-balled most of his list! But with what a gusto
would he describe his favorite authors, Donne or Sir Philip Sidney, and
call their most crabbed passages _delicious_! He tried them on his palate,
as epicures taste olives, and his observations had a smack in them, like a
roughness on the tongue. With what discrimination he hinted a defect in
what he admired most,--as in saying the display of the sumptuous banquet,
in "Paradise Regained," was not in true keeping, as the simplest fare was
all that was necessary to tempt the extremity of hunger; and stating that
Adam and Eve in "Paradise Lost" were too much like married people. He has
furnished many a text for Coleridge to preach upon. There was no fuss or
cant about him; nor were his sweets or sours ever diluted with one
particle of affectation.--_"On the Conversation of Authors."_

[_From "Autobiography of Leigh Hunt,"_ pp. 250-253.]

Let me take this opportunity of recording my recollections in general of
my friend Lamb; of all the world's friend, particularly of his oldest
friends, Coleridge and Southey; for I think he never modified or withheld
any opinion (in private or bookwards) except in consideration of what he
thought they might not like.

Charles Lamb had a head worthy of Aristotle, with as fine a heart as ever
beat in human bosom, and limbs very fragile to sustain it. There was a
caricature of him sold in the shops, which pretended to be a likeness.
Procter went into the shop in a passion, and asked the man what he meant
by putting forth such a libel. The man apologized, and said that the
artist meant no offence. There never was a true portrait of Lamb. His
features were strongly yet delicately cut; he had a fine eye as well as
forehead; and no face carried in it greater marks of thought and feeling.
It resembled that of Bacon, with less worldly vigor and more sensibility.

As his frame, so was his genius. It was as fit for thought as could be,
and equally as unfit for action; and this rendered him melancholy,
apprehensive, humorous, and willing to make the best of everything as it
was, both from tenderness of heart and abhorrence of alteration. His
understanding was too great to admit an absurdity; his frame was not
strong enough to deliver it from a fear. His sensibility to strong
contrasts was the foundation of his humor, which was that of a wit at once
melancholy and willing to be pleased.... His puns were admirable, and
often contained as deep things as the wisdom of some who have greater
names; such a man, for instance, as Nicole, the Frenchman, who was a baby
to him. Lamb would have cracked a score of jokes at Nicole, worth his
whole book of sentences; pelted his head with pearls. Nicole would not
have understood him, but Rochefou-cault would, and Pascal too; and some of
our old Englishmen would have understood him still better. He would have
been worthy of hearing Shakespeare read one of his scenes to him, hot from
the brain. Commonplace found a great comforter in him, as long as it was
good-natured; it was to the ill-natured or the dictatorial only that he
was startling. Willing to see society go on as it did, because he
despaired of seeing it otherwise, but not at all agreeing in his interior
with the common notions of crime and punishment, he "_dumfounded_" a long
tirade against vice one evening, by taking the pipe out of his mouth, and
asking the speaker, "Whether he meant to say that a thief was not a good
man?" To a person abusing Voltaire, and indiscreetly opposing his
character to that of Jesus Christ, he said admirably well (though he by no
means overrated Voltaire, nor wanted reverence in the other quarter), that
"Voltaire was a very good Jesus Christ _for the French_." He liked to see
the church-goers continue to go to church, and wrote a tale in his
sister's admirable little book (_Mrs. Leicester's School_) to encourage
the rising generation to do so; but to a conscientious deist he had
nothing to object; and if an atheist had found every other door shut
against him, he would assuredly not have found his. I believe he would
have had the world remain precisely as it was, provided it innovated no
further; but this spirit in him was anything but a worldly one, or for his
own interest. He hardly contemplated with patience the new buildings in
the Regent's Park; and, privately speaking, he had a grudge against
_official_ heaven-expounders, or clergymen. He would rather, however, have
been with a crowd that he disliked, than felt himself alone. He said to me
one day, with a face of great solemnity, "What must have been that man's
feelings, who thought himself _the first deist?_" ... He knew how many
false conclusions and pretensions are made by men who profess to be guided
by facts only, as if facts could not be misconceived, or figments taken
for them; and therefore, one day, when somebody was speaking of a person
who valued himself on being a matter-of-fact man, "Now," said he, "I value
myself on being a matter-of-lie man." This did not hinder his being a man
of the greatest veracity, in the ordinary sense of the word; but "truth,"
he said, "was precious, and not to be wasted on everybody." Those who wish
to have a genuine taste of him, and an insight into his modes of life,
should read his essays on _Hogarth_ and _King Lear_, his _Letters_, his
article on the _London Streets_, on _Whist-Playing_, which he loves, and
on _Saying Grace before Meat_, which he thinks a strange moment to select
for being grateful. He said once to a brother whist-player, whose hand was
more clever than clean, and who had enough in him to afford the joke, "M.,
if dirt were trumps, what hands you would hold!"

       *       *       *       *       *


[_From Mr. John Forsters Contribution to the New Monthly Magazine,_ 1835.
_Title, "Charles Lamb."_]

Charles Lamb's first appearance in literature was by the side of Samuel
Taylor Coleridge. He came into his first battle, as he tells us
(literature is a sort of warfare), under cover of that greater Ajax.

We should like to see this remarkable friendship (remarkable in all
respects and in all its circumstances) between two of the most original
geniuses in an age of no common genius, worthily recorded. It would
outvalue, in the view of posterity, many centuries of literary quarrels.

Lamb never fairly recovered the death of Coleridge. He thought of little
else (his sister was but another portion of himself) until his own great
spirit joined his friend's. He had a habit of venting his melancholy in a
sort of mirth. He would, with nothing graver than a pun, "cleanse his
bosom of the perilous stuff that weighed" upon it. In a jest, or a few
light phrases, he would lay open the recesses of his heart. So in respect
of the death of Coleridge. Some old friends of his saw him two or three
weeks ago, and remarked the constant turning and reference of his mind. He
interrupted himself and them almost every instant with some play of
affected wonder or humorous melancholy on the words "_Coleridge is dead_."
Nothing could divert him from that, for the thought of it never left him.
About the same time, we had written to him to request a few lines for the
literary album of a gentleman who entertained a fitting admiration of his
genius. It was the last request we were to make, and the last kindness we
were to receive. He wrote in Mr. ----'s volume, and wrote of Coleridge.
This, we believe, was the last production of his pen. A strange and not
unenviable chance, which saw him at the end of his literary pilgrimage, as
he had been at the beginning,--in that immortal company. We are indebted,
with the reader, to the kindness of our friend for permission to print the
whole of what was written. It would be impertinence to offer a remark on
it. Once read, its noble and affectionate tenderness will be remembered

"When I heard of the death of Coleridge, it was without grief. It seemed
to me that he long had been on the confines of the next world,--that he
had a hunger for eternity. 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. He was a Grecian (or in the
first form) at Christ's Hospital, where I was deputy Grecian; and the same
subordination and deference to him I have preserved through a life-long
acquaintance. Great in his writings, he was greatest in his conversation.
In him was disproved that old maxim, that we should allow every one his
share of talk. He would talk from morn to dewy eve, nor cease till far
midnight; yet who ever would interrupt him,--who would obstruct that
continuous flow of converse, fetched from Helicon or Zion? He had the tact
of making the unintelligible seem plain. Many who read the abstruser parts
of his "Friend" would complain that his works did not answer to his spoken
wisdom. They were identical. But he had a tone in oral delivery, which
seemed to convey sense to those who were otherwise imperfect recipients.
He was my fifty years old friend without a dissension. Never saw I his
likeness, nor probably the world can see again. I seem to love the house
he died at more passionately than when he lived. I love the faithful
Gilmans more than while they exercised their virtues towards him living.
What was his mansion is consecrated to me a chapel.

    "CHAS. LAMB.

    "EDMONTON, November 21, 1834."

Within five weeks of this date Charles Lamb died. A slight accident
brought on an attack of erysipelas, which proved fatal; his system was not
strong enough for resistance. It is some consolation to add, that, during
his illness, which lasted four days, he suffered no pain, and that his
faculties remained with him to the last. A few words spoken by him the day
before he died showed with what quiet collectedness he was prepared to
meet death.

As an Essayist, Charles Lamb will be remembered, in years to come, with
Rabelais and Montaigne, with Sir Thomas Browne, with Steele, and with
Addison. He unites many of the finest characteristics of these several
writers. He has wisdom and wit of the highest order, exquisite humor, a
genuine and cordial vein of pleasantry, and the most heart-touching
pathos. In the largest acceptation of the word he is a humanist. No one of
the great family of authors past or present has shown in matters the most
important or the most trivial so delicate and extreme a sense of all that
is human. It is the prevalence of this characteristic in his writings
which has subjected him to occasional charges of want of imagination.
This, however, is but half-criticism; for the matter of reproach may in
fact be said to be his triumph. It was with a deep relish of Mr. Lamb's
faculty that a friend of his once said, "He makes the majesties of
imagination seem familiar." It is precisely thus with his own imagination.
It eludes the observation of the ordinary reader in the modesty of its
truth, in its social and familiar air. His fancy as an Essayist is
distinguished by singular delicacy and tenderness; and even his conceits
will generally be found to be, as those of his favorite Fuller often are,
steeped in human feeling and passion. The fondness he entertained for
Fuller, for the author of the "Anatomy of Melancholy," and for other
writers of that class, was a pure matter of temperament. His thoughts were
always his own. Even when his words seem cast in the very mould of others,
the perfect originality of his thinking is felt and acknowledged; we may
add, in its superior wisdom, manliness, and unaffected sweetness. Every
sentence in those Essays may be proved to be crammed full of thinking. The
two volumes will be multiplied, we have no doubt, in the course of a few
years, into as many hundreds; for they contain a stock of matter which
must be ever suggestive to more active minds, and will surely revisit the
world in new shapes--an everlasting succession and variety of ideas. The
past to him was not mere dry antiquity; it involved a most extensive and
touching association of feelings and thoughts, reminding him of what we
have been and may be, and seeming to afford a surer ground for resting on
than the things which are here to-day and may be gone to-morrow. We know
of no inquisition more curious, no speculation more lofty, than may be
found in the Essays of Charles Lamb. We know no place where conventional
absurdities receive so little quarter; where stale evasions are so plainly
exposed; where the barriers between names and things are at times so
completely flung down. And how, indeed, could it be otherwise? For it is
truth that plays upon his writings like a genial and divine atmosphere. No
need for them to prove what they would be at by any formal or logical
analysis; no need for him to tell the world that this institution is wrong
and that doctrine right; the world may gather from those writings their
surest guide to judgment in these and all other cases--a general and
honest appreciation of the humane and true.

Mr. Lamb's personal appearance was remarkable. It quite realized the
expectations of those who think that an author and a wit should have a
distinct air, a separate costume, a particular cloth, something positive
and singular about him. Such unquestionably had Mr. Lamb. Once he rejoiced
in snuff-color, but latterly his costume was inveterately black--with
gaiters which seemed longing for something more substantial to close in.
His legs were remarkably slight; so indeed was his whole body, which was
of short stature, but surmounted by a head of amazing fineness. His face
was deeply marked and full of noble lines--traces of sensibility,
imagination, suffering, and much thought. His wit was in his eye,
luminous, quick, and restless. The smile that played about his mouth was
ever cordial and good-humored; and the most cordial and delightful of its
smiles were those with which he accompanied his affectionate talk with his
sister, or his jokes against her.

       *       *       *       *       *


[_From Talfourd's "Memorials of C. Lamb,"_ pp. 337-8, 342-3.]

Except to the few who were acquainted with the tragical occurrences of
Lamb's early life, some of his peculiarities seemed strange,--to be
forgiven, indeed, to the excellences of his nature and the delicacy of his
genius,--but still, in themselves, as much to be wondered at as deplored.
The sweetness of his character, breathed through his writings, was felt
even by strangers; but its heroic aspect was unguessed even by many of his
friends. Let them now consider it, and ask if the annals of self-sacrifice
can show anything in human action and endurance more lovely than its self-
devotion exhibits! It was not merely that he saw through the ensanguined
cloud of misfortune which had fallen upon his family, the unstained
excellence of his sister, whose madness had caused it; that he was ready
to take her to his own home with reverential affection, and cherish her
through life; that he gave up, for her sake, all meaner and more selfish
love, and all the hopes which youth blends with the passion which disturbs
and ennobles it; not even that he did all this cheerfully, and without
pluming himself upon his brotherly nobleness as a virtue, or seeking to
repay himself (as some uneasy martyrs do) by small instalments of long
repining,--but that he carried the spirit of the hour in which he first
knew and took his course, to his last. So far from thinking that his
sacrifice of youth and love to his sister gave him a license to follow his
own caprice at the expense of her feelings, even in the lightest matters,
he always wrote and spoke of her as his wiser self, his generous
benefactress, of whose protecting care he was scarcely worthy. How his pen
almost grew wanton in her praise, even when she was a prisoner in the
Asylum after the fatal attack of lunacy, his letters of the time to
Coleridge show; but that might have been a mere temporary exaltation--the
attendant fervor of a great exigency and a great resolution. It was not

Nervous, tremulous, as he seemed--so light of frame that he looked only
fit for the most placid fortune--when the dismal emergencies which
checkered his life arose, he acted with as much promptitude and vigor as
if he had never penned a stanza nor taken a glass too much, or was strung
with herculean sinews. None of those temptations, in which misery is the
most potent, to hazard a lavish expenditure for an enjoyment to be secured
against fate and fortune, ever tempted him to exceed his income, when
scantiest, by a shilling. He had always a reserve for poor Mary's periods
of seclusion, and something in hand besides for a friend in need; and on
his retirement from the India House, he had amassed, by annual savings, a
sufficient sum (invested, after the prudent and classical taste of Lord
Stowell, in "the elegant simplicity of the Three per Cents.") to secure
comfort to Miss Lamb, when his pension should cease with him, even if the
India Company, his great employers, had not acted nobly by the memory of
their inspired clerk--as they did--and gave her the annuity to which a
wife would have been entitled--but of which he could not feel assured.
Living among literary men, some less distinguished and less discreet than
those whom we have mentioned, he was constantly importuned to relieve
distresses which an improvident speculation in literature produces, and
which the recklessness attendant on the empty vanity of self-exaggerated
talent renders desperate and merciless--and to the importunities of such
hopeless petitioners he gave too largely--though he used sometimes to
express a painful sense that he was diminishing his own store without
conferring any real benefit. "Heaven," he used to say, "does not owe me
sixpence for all I have given, or lent (as they call it) to such
importunity; I only gave it because I could not bear to refuse it; and I
have done good by my weakness."

       *       *       *       *       *

[_B. W. P. "Athenaeum," January 24, 1835_.]

I was acquainted with Mr. Lamb for about seventeen or eighteen years. I
saw him first (I _think_, for my recollection is here imperfect) at one of
Hazlitt's lectures, or at one of Coleridge's dissertations on Shakespeare,
where the metaphysician sucked oranges and said a hundred wonderful
things. They were all three extraordinary men. Hazlitt had more of the
speculative and philosophical faculty, and more observation
(_circum_spection) than Lamb; whilst Coleridge was more subtle and
ingenious than either. Lamb's qualities were a sincere, generous, and
tender nature, wit (at command), humor, fancy, and--if the creation of
character be a test of imagination, as I apprehend it is--imagination
also. Some of his phantasms--the people of the South Sea House, Mrs.
Battle, the Benchers of the Middle Temple, &c. (all of them ideal), might
be grouped into comedies. His sketches are always (to quote his own eulogy
on Marvell) full of "a witty delicacy," and, if properly brought out and
marshalled, would do honor to the stage.

When I first became acquainted with Mr. Lamb, he lived, I think, in the
Temple; but I did not visit him then, and could scarcely, therefore, be
said to _know_ him, until he took up his residence in Russell Street,
Covent Garden. He had a first floor there, over a brazier's shop,--since
converted into a bookseller's,--wherein he frequently entertained his
friends. On certain evenings (Thursdays) one might reckon upon
encountering at his rooms from six to a dozen unaffected people, including
two or three men of letters. A game at whist and a cold supper, followed
by a cheerful glass (glasses!) and "good talk," were the standing dishes
upon those occasions. If you came late, you encountered a perfume of the
"GREAT PLANT." The pipe, hid in smoke (the violet amongst its leaves),--a
squadron of tumblers, fuming with various odors, and a score of quick
intelligent glances, saluted you. There you might see Godwin, Hazlitt,
Leigh Hunt, Coleridge (though rarely), Mr. Robinson, Serjeant Talfourd,
Mr. Ayrton, Mr. Alsager, Mr. Manning,--sometimes Miss Kelly, or Liston,--
Admiral Burney, Charles Lloyd, Mr. Alsop, and various others; and if
Wordsworth was in town, you might stumble upon him also. Our friend's
brother, John Lamb, was occasionally there; and his sister (his excellent
sister) invariably presided.

The room in which he lived was plainly and almost carelessly furnished.
Let us enter it for a moment. Its ornaments, you see, are principally
several long shelves of ancient books; (those are his "ragged veterans.")
Some of Hogarth's prints, two after Leonardo da Vinci and Titian, and a
portrait of Pope, enrich the walls. At the table sits an elderly lady (in
spectacles) reading; whilst from an old-fashioned chair by the fire
springs up a little spare man in black, with a countenance pregnant with
expression, deep lines in his forehead, quick, luminous, restless eyes,
and a smile as sweet as ever threw sunshine upon the human face. You see
that you are welcome. He speaks: "Well, boys, how are you? What's the news
with you? What will you take?" You are comfortable in a moment. Reader! it
is Charles Lamb who is before you--the critic, the essayist, the poet, the
wit, the large-minded _human_ being, whose apprehension could grasp,
without effort, the loftiest subject, and descend in gentleness upon the
humblest; who sympathized with all classes and conditions of men, as
readily with the sufferings of the tattered beggar and the poor chimney-
sweeper's boy as with the starry contemplations of Hamlet "the Dane," or
the eagle-flighted madness of Lear.

The books that I have adverted to, as filling his shelves, were mainly
English books--the poets, dramatists, divines, essayists, &c.,--ranging
from the commencement of the Elizabeth period down to the time of Addison
and Steele. Besides these, of the earliest writers, Chaucer was there;
and, amongst the moderns, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and a few others, whom he

He had more real knowledge of old English literature than any man whom I
ever knew. He was not an antiquarian. He neither hunted after commas, nor
scribbled notes which confounded his text. The _Spirit_ of the author
descended upon him; and he felt it! With Burton and Fuller, Jeremy Taylor
and Sir Thomas Browne, he was an intimate. The ancient poets--chiefly the
dramatic poets--were his especial friends. He knew every point and turn of
their wit, all the beauty of their characters; loving each for some one
distinguishing particular, and despising none. For absolute contempt is a
quality of youth and ignorance--a foppery which a wise man rejects, and
_he_ rejected it accordingly. If he contemned anything, it was contempt
itself. He saw that every one bore some sign or mark (God's gift) for
which he ought to be valued by his fellows, and esteemed a man. He could
pick out a merit from each author in his turn. He liked Heywood for his
simplicity and pathos; Webster for his deep insight into the heart; Ben
Jonson for his humor; Marlow for his "mighty line;" Fletcher for his wit
and flowing sweetness; and Shakespeare for his combination of wonders. He
loved Donne too, and Quarles, and Marvell, and Sir Philip Sidney, and a
long list besides.

No one will love the old English writers again as _he_ did. Others may
have a leaning towards them--a respect--an admiration--a sort of _young_
man's love: but the true relishing is over; the close familiar friendship
is dissolved. He who went back into dim antiquity, and sought them out,
and proclaimed their worth to the world--abandoning the gaudy rhetoric of
popular authors for their sake, is now translated into the shadowy regions
of the friends he worshipped. He who was once separated from them by a
hundred lustres, hath surmounted that great interval of time and space,
and is now, in a manner, THEIR CONTEMPORARY!

       *       *       *       *       *

The wit of Mr. Lamb was known to most persons conversant with existing
literature. It was said that his friends bestowed more than due praise
upon it. It is clear that his enemies did it injustice. Such as it was, it
was at all events _his own_. He did not "get up" his conversations, nor
explore the hoards of other wits, nor rake up the ashes of former fires.
Right or wrong, he set to work unassisted; and by dint of his own strong
capacity and fine apprehension, he struck out as many substantially new
ideas as any man of his time. The quality of his humor was essentially
different from that of other men. It was not simply a tissue of jests or
conceits, broad, far-fetched, or elaborate; but it was a combination of
humor with pathos--a sweet stream of thought, bubbling and sparkling with
witty fancies; such as I do not remember to have elsewhere met with,
except in Shakespeare. There is occasionally a mingling of the serious and
the comic in "Don Juan," and in other writers; but they differ, after all,
materially from Lamb in humor:--whether they are better or worse, is
unimportant. His delicate and irritable genius, influenced by his early
studies, and fettered by old associations, moved within a limited circle.
Yet this was not without its advantages; for, whilst it stopped him from
many bold (and many idle) speculations and theories, it gave to his
writings their peculiar charm, their individuality, their sincerity, their
pure, gentle original character. Wit, which is "impersonal," and, for that
very reason perhaps, is nine times out of ten a mere heartless matter, in
him assumed a new shape and texture. It was no longer simply malicious,
but was colored by a hundred gentle feelings. It bore the rose as well as
the thorn. His heart warmed the jests and conceits with which his brain
was busy, and turned them into flowers.

Every one who knew Mr. Lamb, knew that his humor was not affected. It was
a style--a habit; generated by reading and loving the ancient writers, but
adopted in perfect sincerity, and used towards all persons and upon all
occasions. He was the same in 1810 as in 1834--when he died. A man cannot
go on "affecting" for five and twenty years. He must be sometimes sincere.
Now, Lamb was always the same. I never knew a man upon whom Time wrought
so little.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Charles Lamb: A Memoir" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.