The Best Letters of Charles Lamb
by Charles Lamb
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It may well be that the "Essays of Elia" will be found to have kept their perfume, and the LETTERS OF CHARLES LAMB to retain their old sweet savor, when "Sartor Resartus" has about as many readers as Bulwer's "Artificial Changeling," and nine tenths even of "Don Juan" lie darkening under the same deep dust that covers the rarely troubled pages of the "Secchia Rapita."


No assemblage of letters, parallel or kindred to that in the hands of the reader, if we consider its width of range, the fruitful period over which it stretches, and its typical character, has ever been produced.



Edited with an Introduction


A.D. 1892.



LETTER I. To Samuel Taylor Coleridge II. To Coleridge III. To Coleridge IV. To Coleridge V. To Coleridge VI. To Coleridge VII. To Coleridge VIII. To Coleridge IX. To Coleridge X. To Coleridge XI. To Coleridge XII. To Coleridge XIII. To Coleridge XIV. To Coleridge XV. To Robert Southey XVI. To Southey XVII. To Southey XVIII. To Southey XIX. To Thomas Manning XX. To Coleridge XXI. To Manning XXII. To Coleridge XXIII. To Manning XXIV. To Manning XXV. To Coleridge XXVI. To Manning XXVII. To Coleridge XXVIII. To Coleridge XXIX. To Manning XXX. To Manning XXXI. To Manning XXXII. To Manning XXXIII. To Coleridge XXXIV. To Wordsworth XXXV. To Wordsworth XXXVI. To Manning XXXVII. To Manning XXXVIII. To Manning XXXIX. To Coleridge XL. To Manning XLI. To Manning XLII. To Manning XLIII. To William Godwin XLIV. To Manning XLV. To Miss Wordsworth XLVI. To Manning XLVII. To Wordsworth XLVIII. To Manning XLIX. To Wordsworth L. To Manning LI. To Miss Wordsworth LII. To Wordsworth LIII. To Wordsworth LIV. To Wordsworth LV. To Wordsworth LVI. To Southey LVII. To Miss Hutchinson LVIII. To Manning LIX. To Manning LX. To Wordsworth LXI. To Wordsworth LXII. To H. Dodwell LXIII. To Mrs. Wordsworth LXIV. To Wordsworth LXV. To Manning LXVI. To Miss Wordsworth LXVII. To Coleridge LXVIII. To Wordsworth LXIX. To John Clarke LXX. To Mr. Barren Field LXXI. To Walter Wilson LXXII. To Bernard Barton LXXIII. To Miss Wordsworth LXXIV. To Mr. and Mrs. Bruton LXXV. To Bernard Barton LXXVI. To Miss Hutchinson LXXVII. To Bernard Barton LXXVIII. To Mrs. Hazlitt LXXIX. To Bernard Barton LXXX. To Bernard Barton LXXXI. To Bernard Barton LXXXII. To Bernard Barton LXXXIII. To Bernard Barton LXXXIV. To Bernard Barton LXXXV. To Bernard Barton LXXXVI. To Wordsworth LXXXVII. To Bernard Barton LXXXVIII. To Bernard Barton LXXXIX. To Bernard Barton XC. To Southey XCI. To Bernard Barton XCII. To J.B. Dibdin XCIII. To Henry Crabb Robinson XCIV. To Peter George Patmore XCV. To Bernard Barton XCVI. To Thomas Hood XCVII. To P.G. Patmore XCVIII. To Bernard Barton XCIX. To Procter C. To Bernard Barton CI. To Mr. Gilman CII. To Wordsworth CIII. To Mrs. Hazlitt CIV. To George Dyer CV. To Dyer CVI. To Mr. Moxon CVII. To Mr. Moxon


No writer, perhaps, since the days of Dr. Johnson has been oftener brought before us in biographies, essays, letters, etc., than Charles Lamb. His stammering speech, his gaiter-clad legs,—"almost immaterial legs," Hood called them,—his frail wisp of a body, topped by a head "worthy of Aristotle," his love of punning, of the Indian weed, and, alas! of the kindly production of the juniper-berry (he was not, he owned, "constellated under Aquarius"), his antiquarianism of taste, and relish of the crotchets and whimsies of authorship, are as familiar to us almost as they were to the group he gathered round him Wednesdays at No. 4, Inner Temple Lane, where "a clear fire, a clean hearth, and the rigor of the game" awaited them. Talfourd has unctuously celebrated Lamb's "Wednesday Nights." He has kindly left ajar a door through which posterity peeps in upon the company,—Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, "Barry Cornwall," Godwin, Martin Burney, Crabb Robinson (a ubiquitous shade, dimly suggestive of that figment, "Mrs. Harris"), Charles Kemble, Fanny Kelly ("Barbara S."), on red-letter occasions Coleridge and Wordsworth,—and sees them discharging the severer offices of the whist-table ("cards were cards" then), and, later, unbending their minds over poetry, criticism, and metaphysics. Elia was no Barmecide host, and the serjeant dwells not without regret upon the solider business of the evening,—"the cold roast lamb or boiled beef, the heaps of smoking roasted potatoes, and the vast jug of porter, often replenished from the foaming pots which the best tap of Fleet Street supplied," hospitably presided over by "the most quiet, sensible, and kind of women," Mary Lamb.

The terati Talfourd's day were clearly hardier of digestion than their descendants are. Roast lamb, boiled beef, "heaps of smoking roasted potatoes," pots of porter,—a noontide meal for a hodman,—and the hour midnight! One is reminded, a propos of Miss Lamb's robust viands, that Elia somewhere confesses to "an occasional nightmare;" "but I do not," he adds, "keep a whole stud of them." To go deeper into this matter, to speculate upon the possible germs, the first vague intimations to the mind of Coleridge of the weird spectra of "The Ancient Mariner," the phantasmagoria of "Kubla Khan," would be, perhaps, over-refining. "Barry Cornwall," too, Lamb tells us, "had his tritons and his nereids gambolling before him in nocturnal visions." No wonder!

It is not intended here to re-thresh the straw left by Talfourd, Fitzgerald, Canon Ainger, and others, in the hope of discovering something new about Charles Lamb. In this quarter, at least, the wind shall be tempered to the reader,—shorn as he is by these pages of a charming letter or two. So far as fresh facts are concerned, the theme may fairly be considered exhausted. Numberless writers, too, have rung the changes upon "poor Charles Lamb," "dear Charles Lamb," "gentle Charles Lamb," and the rest,—the final epithet, by the way being one that Elia, living, specially resented:

"For God's sake," he wrote to Coleridge. "don't make me ridiculous any more by terming me gentle-hearted in print, or do it in better verses. It did well enough five years ago, when I came to see you, and was moral coxcomb enough at the time you wrote the lines to feed upon such epithets; but besides that the meaning of 'gentle' is equivocal at best, and almost always means poor-spirited, the very quality of gentleness is abhorrent to such vile trumpetings. My sentiment is long since vanished. I hope my virtues have done sucking. I can scarce think but you meant it in joke. I hope you did, for I should be ashamed to believe that you could think to gratify me by such praise, fit only to be a cordial to some green-sick sonneteer."

The indulgent pity conventionally bestowed upon Charles Lamb—one of the most manly, self-reliant of characters, to say nothing of his genius—is absurdly' misplaced.

Still farther be it from us to blunt the edge of appetite by sapiently essaying to "analyze" and account for Lamb's special zest and flavor, as though his writings, or any others worth the reading, were put together upon principles of clockwork. We are perhaps over-fond of these arid pastimes nowadays. It is not the "sweet musk-roses," the "apricocks and dewberries" of literature that please us best; like Bottom the Weaver, we prefer the "bottle of hay." What a mockery of right enjoyment our endless prying and sifting, our hunting of riddles in metaphors, innuendoes in tropes, ciphers in Shakspeare! Literature exhausted, we may turn to art, and resolve, say, the Sistine Madonna (I deprecate the Manes of the "Divine Painter") into some ingenious and recondite rebus. For such critical chopped-hay—sweeter to the modern taste than honey of Hybla—Charles Lamb had little relish. "I am, sir," he once boasted to an analytical, unimaginative proser who had insisted upon explaining some quaint passage in Marvell or Wither, "I am, sir, a matter-of-lie man." It was his best warrant to sit at the Muses' banquet. Charles Lamb was blessed with an intellectual palate as fine as Keats's, and could enjoy the savor of a book (or of that dainty, "in the whole mundus edibilis the most delicate," Roast Pig, for that matter) without pragmatically asking, as the king did of the apple in the dumpling, "how the devil it got there." His value as a critic is grounded in this capacity of naive enjoyment (not of pig, but of literature), of discerning beauty and making us discern it,—thus adding to the known treasures and pleasures of mankind.

Suggestions not unprofitable for these later days lurk in these traits of Elia the student and critic. How worthy the imitation, for instance, of those disciples who band together to treat a fine poem (of Browning, say, or Shelley) as they might a chapter in the Revelation,—speculating sagely upon the import of the seven seals and the horns of the great beast, instead of enjoying the obvious beauties of their author. To the schoolmaster—whose motto would seem too often to be the counsel of the irate old lady in Dickens, "Give him a meal of chaff!"—Charles Lamb's critical methods are rich in suggestion. How many ingenuous boys, lads in the very flush and hey-day of appreciativeness of the epic virtues, have been parsed, declined, and conjugated into an utter detestation of the melodious names of Homer and Virgil! Better far for such victims had they, instead of aspiring to the vanities of a "classical education," sat, like Keats, unlearnedly at the feet of quaint Chapman, or Dryden, or even of Mr. Pope.

Perhaps, by way of preparative to the reading of Charles Lamb's letters, it will be well to run over once more the leading facts of his life. First let us glance at his outward appearance. Fortunately there are a number of capital pieces of verbal portraiture of Elia.

Referring to the year 1817, "Barry Cornwall" wrote:

"Persons who had been in the habit of traversing Covent Garden at that time of night, by extending their walk a few yards into Russell Street have noticed a small, spare man clothed in black, who went out every morning, and returned every afternoon as the hands of the clock moved toward 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 citywards. 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 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."

His countenance is thus described by Thomas Hood:

"His was no common face, none of those willow-pattern ones which Nature turns out by thousands at her potteries, but more like a chance specimen of the Chinese ware,—one to the set; unique, antique, quaint, you might have sworn to it piecemeal,—a separate affidavit to each feature."

Mrs. Charles Mathews, wife of the comedian, who met Lamb at a dinner, gives an amusing account of him:—

"Mr. Lamb's first appearance was not prepossessing. His figure was small and mean, and no man was certainly ever less beholden to his tailor. His 'bran' new suit of black cloth (in which he affected several times during the day to take great pride, and to cherish as a novelty that he had looked for and wanted) was drolly contrasted with his very rusty silk stockings, shown from his knees, and his much too large, thick shoes, without polish. His shirt rejoiced in a wide, ill-plaited frill, and his very small, tight, white neckcloth was hemmed to a fine point at the ends that formed part of a little bow. His hair was black and sleek, but not formal, and his face the gravest I ever saw, but indicating great intellect, and resembling very much the portraits of Charles I."

From this sprightly and not too flattering sketch we may turn to Serjeant Talfourd's tender and charming portrait,—slightly idealized, no doubt; for the man of the coif held a brief for his friend, and was a poet besides:—

"Methinks I see him before me now as he appeared then, and as he continued without any perceptible alteration to me, during the twenty years of intimacy which followed, and were closed by his death. A light frame, so fragile that it seemed as if a breath would overthrow it, clad in clerk-like black, was surmounted by a head of form and expression the most noble and sweet. His black hair curled crisply about an expanded forehead; his eyes, softly brown, twinkled with varying expression, though the prevalent expression was sad; and the nose, slightly curved, and delicately carved at the nostril, with the lower outline of the face delicately oval, completed a head which was finely placed upon the shoulders, and gave importance and even dignity to a diminutive and shadowy stem. Who shall describe his countenance, catch its quivering sweetness, and fix it forever in words? There are none, alas! to answer the vain desire of friendship. Deep thought, striving with humor; the lines of suffering wreathed into cordial mirth, and a smile of painful sweetness, present an image to the mind it can as little describe as lose. His personal appearance and manner are not unjustly characterized by what he himself says in one of his letters to Manning, [1] 'a compound of the Jew, the gentleman, and the angel.'"

The writings of Charles Lamb abound in passages of autobiography. "I was born," he tells us in that delightful sketch, "The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple," "and passed the first seven years of my life in the Temple. Its church, its halls, its gardens, its fountain, its river, I had almost said,—for in those young years what was this king of rivers to me but a stream that watered our pleasant places?—these are of my oldest recollections." His father, John Lamb, the "Lovel" of the essay cited, had come up a little boy from Lincolnshire to enter the service of Samuel Salt,—one of those "Old Benchers" upon whom the pen of Elia has shed immortality, a stanch friend and patron to the Lambs, the kind proprietor of that "spacious closet of good old English reading" upon whose "fair and wholesome pasturage" Charles and his sister, as children, "browsed at will."

John Lamb had married Elizabeth Field, whose mother was for fifty years housekeeper at the country-seat of the Plumers, Blakesware, in Hertfordshire, the "Blakesmoor" of the Essays, frequent scene of Lamb's childish holiday sports,—a spacious mansion, with its park and terraces and "firry wilderness, the haunt of the squirrel and day-long murmuring wood-pigeon;" an Eden it must have seemed to the London-bred child, in whose fancy the dusty trees and sparrows and smoke-grimed fountain of Temple Court had been a pastoral. Within the cincture of its excluding garden-walls, wrote Elia in later years, "I could have exclaimed with that garden-loving poet, [2]—

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

At Blakesware, too, was the room whence the spirit of Sarah Battle—that "gentlewoman born"—winged its flight to a region where revokes and "luke-warm gamesters" are unknown.

To John and Elizabeth Lamb were born seven children, only three of whom, John, Mary, and Charles, survived their infancy. Of the survivors, Charles was the youngest, John being twelve and Mary ten years his senior,—a fact to be weighed in estimating the heroism of Lamb's later life. At the age of seven, Charles Lamb, "son of John Lamb, scrivener, and Elizabeth, his wife," was entered at the school of Christ's Hospital,—"the antique foundation of that godly and royal child King Edward VI." Of his life at this institution he has left us abundant and charming memorials in the Essays, "Recollections of Christ's Hospital," and "Christ's Hospital Five-and-thirty Years Ago,"—the latter sketch corrective of the rather optimistic impressions of the former.

With his schoolfellows Charles seems to have been, despite his timid and retiring disposition (he said of himself, "while the others were all fire and play, he stole along with all the self-concentration of a young monk"), a decided favorite. "Lamb," wrote C. V. Le Grice, a schoolmate often mentioned in essay and letter, "was an amiable, gentle boy, very sensible and keenly observing, indulged by his schoolfellows and by his master on account of his infirmity of speech.... I never heard his name mentioned without the addition of Charles, although, as there was no other boy of the name of Lamb, the addition was unnecessary; but there was an implied kindness in it, and it was a proof that his gentle manners excited that kindness."

For us the most important fact of the Christ's Hospital school-days is the commencement of Lamb's life-long friendship with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, two years his senior, and the object of his fervent hero-worship. Most of us, perhaps, can find the true source of whatever of notable good or evil we have effected in life in the moulding influence of one of these early friendships or admirations. It is the boy's hero, the one he loves and reverences among his schoolfellows,— not his taskmaster,—that is his true teacher, the setter of the broader standards by which he is to abide through life. Happy the man the feet of whose early idols have not been of clay.

It was under the quickening influence of the eloquent, precocious genius of the "inspired charity boy" that Charles Lamb's ideals and ambitions shaped themselves out of the haze of a child's conceptions. Coleridge at sixteen was already a poet, his ear attuned to the subtlest melody of verse, and his hand rivalling, in preluding fragments, the efforts of his maturer years; he was already a philosopher, rapt in Utopian, schemes and mantling hopes as enchanting—and as chimerical—as the pleasure-domes and caves of ice decreed by Kubla Khan; and the younger lad became his ardent disciple.

Lamb quitted Christ's Hospital, prematurely, in November, 1787, and the companionship of the two friends was for a time interrupted. To part with Coleridge, to exchange the ease and congenial scholastic atmosphere of the Hospital for the res angusta domi, for the intellectual starvation of a life of counting-house drudgery, must have been a bitter trial for him. But the shadow of poverty was upon the little household in the Temple; on the horizon of the future the blackening clouds of anxieties still graver were gathering; and the youngest child was called home to share the common burden.

Charles Lamb was first employed in the South Sea House, where his brother John [3]—a cheerful optimist, a dilettante in art, genial, prosperous, thoroughly selfish, in so far as the family fortunes were concerned an outsider—already held a lucrative post. It was not long before Charles obtained promotion in the form of a clerkship with the East India Company,—one of the last kind services of Samuel Salt, who died in the same year, 1792,—and with the East India Company he remained for the rest of his working life.

Upon the death of their generous patron the Lambs removed from the Temple and took lodgings in Little Queen Street, Holborn; and for Charles the battle of life may be said to have fairly begun. His work as a junior clerk absorbed, of course, the greater part of his day and of his year. Yet there were breathing-spaces: there were the long evenings with the poets; with Marlowe, Drayton, Drummond of Hawthornden, and Cowley,—"the sweetest names, which carry a perfume in the mention;" there were the visits to the play, the yearly vacation jaunts to sunny Hertfordshire. The intercourse with Coleridge, too, was now occasionally renewed. The latter had gone up to Cambridge early in 1791, there to remain—except the period of his six months' dragooning—for the nest four years. During his visits to London it was the habit of the two schoolfellows to meet at a tavern near Smithfield, the "Salutation and Cat" to discuss the topics dear to both: and it was about this time that Lamb's sonnet to Mrs Siddons, his first appearance in print, was published in the "Morning Chronicle."

The year 1796 was a terribly eventful one for the Lambs. There was a taint of insanity in the family on the father's side, and on May 27, 1796, we find Charles writing to Coleridge these sad words,—doubly sad for the ring of mockery in them:—

"My life has been somewhat diversified of late. The six weeks that finished last year and began this, your very humble servant spent very agreeably in a madhouse at Hoxton. I am got somewhat rational now and don't bite any one. But mad I was!" [4]

Charles, thanks to the resolution with which he combated the tendency, and to the steadying influence of his work at the desk,—despite his occasional murmurs, his best friend and sheet-anchor in life,—never again succumbed to the family malady; but from that moment, over his small household, Madness—like Death in Milton's vision—continually "shook its dart," and at best only "delayed to strike." [5]

It was in the September of 1796 that the calamity befell which has tinged the story of Charles and Mary Lamb with the sombrest hues of the Greek tragedy. The family were still in the Holborn lodgings,—the mother an invalid, the father sinking into a second childhood. Mary, in addition to the burden of ministering to her parents, was working for their support with her needle.

At this point it will be well to insert a prefatory word or two as to the character of Mary Lamb; and here the witnesses are in accord. There is no jarring of opinion, as in her brother's case; for Charles Lamb has been sorely misjudged,—often, it must be admitted, with ground of reason; sometimes by persons who might and should have looked deeper. In a notable instance, the heroism of his life has been meanly overlooked by one who preached to mankind with the eloquence of the Prophets the prime need and virtue of recognizing the hero. If self-abnegation lies at the root of true heroism, Charles Lamb—that "sorry phenomenon" with an "insuperable proclivity to gin" [6]—was a greater hero than was covered by the shield of Achilles. The character of Mary Lamb is quickly summed Up. She was one of the most womanly of women. "In all its essential sweetness," says Talfourd, "her character was like her brother's; while, by a temper more placid, a spirit of enjoyment more serene, she was enabled to guide, to counsel, to cheer him, and to protect him on the verge of the mysterious calamity, from the depths of which she rose so often unruffled to his side. To a friend in any difficulty she was the most comfortable of advisers, the wisest of consolers." Hazlitt said that "he never met with a woman who could reason, and had met with only one thoroughly reasonable,—Mary Lamb." The writings of Elia are strewn, as we know, with the tenderest tributes to her worth. "I wish," he says, "that I could throw into a heap the remainder of our joint existences, that we might share them in equal division."

The psychology of madness is a most subtle inquiry. How slight the mysterious touch that throws the smooth-running human mechanism into a chaos of jarring elements, that transforms, in the turn of an eyelash, the mild humanity of the gentlest of beings into the unreasoning ferocity of the tiger.

The London "Times" of September 26, 1796, contained the following paragraph:—

"On Friday afternoon the coroner and a jury sat on the body of a lady in the neighborhood of Holborn, who died in consequence of a wound from her daughter the preceding day. It appeared by the evidence adduced that while the family were preparing for dinner, the young lady seized a case-knife lying on the table, and in a menacing manner pursued a little girl, her apprentice, round the room. On the calls of her infirm mother to forbear, she renounced her first object, and with loud shrieks approached her parent. The child, by her cries, quickly brought up the landlord of the house, but too late. [7] The dreadful scene presented him the mother lifeless, pierced to the heart, on a chair, her daughter yet wildly standing over her with the fatal knife, and the old man, her father, weeping by her side, himself bleeding at the forehead from the effects of a severe blow he received from one of the forks she had been madly hurling about the room.

"For a few days prior to this, the family had observed some symptoms of insanity in her, which had so much increased on the Wednesday evening that her brother, early the next morning, went to Dr. Pitcairn; but that gentleman was not at home.

"The jury of course brought in their verdict,—Lunacy."

I need not supply the omitted names of the actors in this harrowing scene. Mary Lamb was at once placed in the Asylum at Hoxton, and the victim of her frenzy was laid to rest in the churchyard of St. Andrew's, Holborn. It became necessary for Charles and his father to make an immediate change of residence, and they took lodgings at Pentonville. There is a pregnant sentence in one of Lamb's letters that flashes with the vividness of lightning into the darkest recesses of those early troubles and embarrassments. "We are," he wrote to Coleridge, "in a manner marked."

Charles Lamb after some weeks obtained the release of his sister from the Hoxton Asylum by formally undertaking her future guardianship,—a charge which was borne, until Death released the compact, with a steadfastness, a cheerful renunciation of what men regard as the crowning blessings of manhood, [8] that has shed a halo more radiant even than that of his genius about the figure—it was "small and mean," said sprightly Mrs. Mathews—of the India House clerk.

As already stated, the mania that had once attacked Charles never returned; but from the side of Mary Lamb this grimmest of spectres never departed. "Mary A is again from home;" "Mary is fallen ill again:" how often do such tear-fraught phrases—tenderly veiled, lest! some chance might bring them to the eye of the blameless sufferer—recur in the Letters! Brother and sister were ever on the watch for the symptoms premonitory of the return of this "their sorrow's crown of sorrows." Upon their little holiday excursions, says Talfourd, a strait-waistcoat, carefully packed by Miss Lamb herself, was their constant companion. Charles Lloyd relates that he once met them slowly pacing together a little footpath in Hoxton fields, both weeping bitterly, and found on joining them that they were taking their solemn way to the old asylum. Thus, upon this guiltless pair were visited the sins of their fathers.

With the tragical events just narrated, the storm of calamity seemed to have spent its force, and there were thenceforth plenty of days of calm and of sunshine for Charles Lamb. The stress of poverty was lightened and finally removed by successive increases of salary at the India House; the introductions of Coleridge and his own growing repute in the world of letters gathered about him a circle of friends—Southey, Wordsworth, Hazlitt, Manning, Barton, and the rest—more congenial, and certainly more profitable, than the vagrant intimados, "to the world's eye a ragged regiment," who had wasted his substance and his leisure in the early Temple days.

Lamb's earliest avowed appearance as an author was in Coleridge's first volume of poems, published by Cottle, of Bristol, in 1796. "The effusions signed C.L.," says Coleridge in the preface, "were written by Mr. Charles Lamb, of the India House. Independently of the signature, their superior merit would have sufficiently distinguished them." The "effusions" were four sonnets, two of them—the most noteworthy— touching upon the one love-romance of Lamb's life, [9]—his early attachment to the "fair-haired" Hertfordshire girl, the "Anna" of the Sonnets, the "Alice W—-n" of the Essays. We remember that Ella in describing the gallery of old family portraits, in the essay, "Blakesmoor in H—-shire," dwells upon "that beauty with the cool, blue, pastoral drapery, and a lamb, that hung next the great bay window, with the bright yellow Hertfordshire hair, so like my Alice."

In 1797 Cottle issued a second edition of Coleridge's poems, this time with eleven additional pieces by Lamb,—making fifteen of his in all,—and containing verses by their friend Charles Lloyd. "It is unlikely," observes Canon Ainger, "that this little venture brought any profit to its authors, or that a subsequent volume of blank verse by Lamb and Lloyd in the following year proved more remunerative." In 1798 Lamb, anxious for his sister's sake to add to his slender income, composed his "miniature romance," as Talfourd calls it, "Rosamund Gray;" and this little volume, which has not yet lost its charm, proved a moderate success. Shelley, writing from Italy to Leigh Hunt in 1819, said of it: "What a lovely thing is his 'Rosamund Gray'! How much knowledge of the sweetest and deepest part of our nature in it! When I think of such a mind as Lamb's, when I see how unnoticed remain things of such exquisite and complete perfection, what should I hope for myself if I had not higher objects in view than fame?"

It is rather unpleasant, in view of this generous—if overstrained— tribute, to find the object of it referring later to the works of his encomiast as "thin sown with profit or delight." [10]

In 1802 Lamb published in a small duodecimo his blank-verse tragedy, "John Woodvil,"—it had previously been declined by John Kemble as unsuited to the stage,—and in 1806 was produced at the Drury Lane Theatre his farce "Mr. H.," the summary failure of which is chronicled with much humor in the Letters. [11]

The "Tales from Shakspeare," by Charles and Mary Lamb, were published by Godwin in 1807, and a second edition was called for in the following year. Lamb was now getting on surer—and more remunerative—ground; and in 1808 he prepared for the firm of Longmans his masterly "Specimens of the English Dramatic Poets contemporary with Shakspeare." Concerning this work he wrote to Manning:—

"Specimens are becoming fashionable. We have Specimens of Ancient English Poets, Specimens of Modern English Poets, Specimens of Ancient English Prose Writers, without end. They used to be called 'Beauties.' You have seen Beauties of Shakspeare? so have many people that never saw any beauties in Shakspeare,"

From Charles Lamb's "Specimens" dates, as we know, the revival of the study of the old English dramatists other than Shakespeare. He was the first to call attention to the neglected beauties of those great Elizabethans, Webster, Marlowe, Ford, Dekker, Massinger,—no longer accounted mere "mushrooms that sprang up in a ring under the great oak of Arden." [12]

The opportunity that was to call forth Lamb's special faculty in authorship came late in life. In January, 1820, Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, the publishers, brought out the first number of a new monthly journal under the name of an earlier and extinct periodical, the "London Magazine," and in the August number appeared an article, "Recollections of the South Sea House." over the signature Elia. [13] With this delightful sketch the essayist Elia may be said to have been born. In none of Lamb's previous writings had there been, more than a hint of that unique vein,—wise, playful, tender, fantastic, "everything by starts, and nothing long," exhibited with a felicity of phrase certainly unexcelled in English prose literature,—that we associate with his name. The careful reader of the Letters cannot fail to note that it is there that Lamb's peculiar quality in authorship is first manifest. There is a letter to Southey, written as early as 1798, that has the true Elia ring. [14] With the "London Magazine," which was discontinued in 1826.

Elia was born, and with it he may be said to have died,—although some of his later contributions to the "New Monthly" [15] and to the "Englishman's Magazine" were included in the "Last Essays of Elia," collected and published in 1833. The first series of Lamb's essays under the title of Elia had been published in a single volume by Taylor and Hessey, of the "London Magazine," in 1823.

The story of Lamb's working life—latterly an uneventful one, broken chiefly by changes of abode and by the yearly holiday jaunts, "migrations from the blue bed to the brown"—from 1796, when the correspondence with Coleridge begins, is told in the letters. For thirty-three years he served the East India Company, and he served it faithfully and steadily. There is, indeed, a tradition that having been reproved on one occasion for coming to the office late in the morning, he pleaded that he always left it "so very early in the evening." Poets, we know, often "heard the chimes at midnight" in Elia's day, and the plea has certainly a most Lamb-like ring. That the Company's directors, however, were more than content with the service of their literate clerk, the sequel shows.

It is manifest in certain letters, written toward the close of 1824 and in the beginning of 1825, that Lamb's confinement was at last telling upon him, and that he was thinking of a release from his bondage to the "desk's dead wood." In February, 1825, he wrote to Barton,—

"Your gentleman brother sets my mouth watering after liberty. Oh that I were kicked out of Leadenhall with every mark of indignity, and a competence in my fob! The birds of the air would not be so free as I should. How I would prance and curvet it, and pick up cowslips, and ramble about purposeless as an idiot!"

Later in March we learn that he had signified to the directors his willingness to resign,

"I am sick of hope deferred. The grand wheel is in agitation that is to turn up my fortune; but round it rolls, and will turn up nothing, I have a glimpse of freedom, of becoming a gentleman at large, but I am put off from day to day. I have offered my resignation, and it is neither accepted nor rejected. Eight weeks am I kept in this fearful suspense. Guess what an absorbing state I feel it. I am not conscious of the existence of friends, present or absent. The East India directors alone can be that thing to me. I have just learned that nothing will be decided this week. Why the next? Why any week?"

But the "grand wheel" was really turning, to some purpose, and a few days later, April 6, 1825, he joyfully wrote to Barton,—

"My spirits are so tumultuary with the novelty of my recent emancipation that I have scarce steadiness of hand, much more mind, to compose a letter, I am free, B.B.,—free as air!

"'The little bird that wings the sky Knows no such liberty,'

I was set free on Tuesday in last week at four o'clock. I came home forever!"

The quality of the generosity of the East India directors was not strained in Lamb's case. It should be recorded as an agreeable commercial phenomenon that these officials, men of business acting in "a business matter,"—words too often held to exclude all such Quixotic matters as sentiment, gratitude, and Christian equity between man and man,—were not only just, but munificent. [16] From the path of Charles and Mary Lamb—already beset with anxieties grave enoughthey removed forever the shadow of want. Lamb's salary at the time of his retirement was nearly seven hundred pounds a year, and the offer made to him was a pension of four hundred and fifty, with a deduction of nine pounds a year for his sister, should she survive him.

Lamb lived to enjoy his freedom and the Company's bounty nearly nine years. Soon after his retirement he settled with his sister at Enfield, within easy reach of his loved London, removing thence to the neighboring parish of Edmonton,—his last change of residence. Coleridge's death, in July, 1834, was a heavy blow to him. "When I heard of the death of Coleridge," he wrote, "it was without grief. It seemed to me that he had long been on the confines of the next world, that he had a hunger for 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." Lamb did not long outlive his old schoolfellow. Walking in the middle of December along the London road, he stumbled and fell, inflicting a slight wound upon his face. The injury at first seemed trivial; but soon after, erysipelas appearing, it became evident that his general health was too feeble to resist. On the 27th of December, 1834, he passed quietly away, whispering in his last moments the names of his dearest friends.

Mary Lamb survived her brother nearly thirteen years, dying, at the advanced age of eighty-two, on May 20, 1847. With increasing years her attacks had become more frequent and of longer duration, till her mind became permanently weakened. After leaving Edmonton, she lived chiefly in a pleasant house in St. John's Wood, surrounded by old books and prints, under the care of a nurse. Her pension, together with the income from her brother's savings, was amply sufficient for her support.

Talfourd, who was present at the burial of Mary Lamb, has eloquently described the earthly reunion of the brother and sister:—

"A few survivors of the old circle, then sadly thinned, attended her remains to the spot in Edmnonton churchyard where they were laid above those of her brother. In accordance with Lamb's own feeling, so far as it could be gathered from his expressions on a subject to which he did not often or willingly refer, he had been interred in a deep grave, simply dug and wattled round, but without any affectation of stone or brickwork to keep the human dust from its kindred earth. So dry, however, is the soil of the quiet churchyard that the excavated earth left perfect walls of stiff clay, and permitted us just to catch a glimpse of the still untarnished edges of the coffin, in which all the mortal part of one of the most delightful persons who ever lived was contained, and on which the remains of her he had loved with love 'passing the love of woman' were henceforth to rest,—the last glances we shall ever have even of that covering,—concealed from us as we parted by the coffin of the sister. We felt, I believe, after a moment's strange shuddering, that the reunion was well accomplished; although the true-hearted son of Admiral Burney, who had known and loved the pair we quitted from a child, and who had been among the dearest objects of existence to him, refused to be comforted."

There are certain handy phrases, the legal-tender of conversation, that people generally use without troubling themselves to look into their title to currency. It is often said, for instance, with an air of deploring a phase of general mental degeneracy, that "letter-writing is a lost art." And so it is,—-not because men nowadays, if they were put to it, could not, on the average, write as good letters as ever (the average although we certainly have no Lambs, and perhaps no Walpoles or Southeys to raise it, would probably be higher), but because the conditions that call for and develop the epistolary art have largely passed away. With our modern facility of communication, the letter has lost the pristine dignity of its function. The earth has dwindled strangely since the advent of steam and electricity, and in a generation used to Mr. Edison's devices, Puck's girdle presents no difficulties to the imagination. In Charles Lamb's time the expression "from Land's End to John O'Groat's" meant something; to-day it means a few comfortable hours by rail, a few minutes by telegraph. Wordsworth in the North of England was to Lamb, so far as the chance of personal contact was concerned, nearly as remote as Manning in China. Under such conditions a letter was of course a weighty matter; it was a thoughtful summary of opinion, a rarely recurring budget of general intelligence, expensive to send, and paid for by the recipient; and men put their minds and energies into composing it. "One wrote at that time," says W.C. Hazlitt, "a letter to an acquaintance in one of the home counties which one would only write nowadays to a settler in the Colonies or a relative in India."

But to whatever conditions or circumstances we may owe the existence of Charles Lamb's letters, their quality is of course the fruit of the genius and temperament of the writer. Unpremeditated as the strain of the skylark, they have almost to excess (were that possible) the prime epistolary merit of spontaneity. From the brain of the writer to the sheet before him flows an unbroken Pactolian stream. Lamb, at his best, ranges with Shakspearian facility the gamut of human emotion, exclaiming, as it were at one moment, with Jaques, "Motley's the only wear!"—in the next probing the source of tears. He is as ejaculatory with his pen as other men are with their tongues. Puns, quotations, conceits, critical estimates of the rarest insight and suggestiveness, chase each other over his pages like clouds over a summer sky; and the whole is leavened with the sterling ethical and aesthetic good sense that renders Charles Lamb one of the wholesomest of writers.

As to the plan on which the selections for this volume have been made, it needs only to be said that, in general, the editor has aimed to include those letters which exhibit most fully the writer's distinctive charm and quality. This plan leaves, of course, a residue of considerable biographical and critical value; but it is believed that to all who really love and appreciate him, Charles Lamb's "Best Letters" are those which are most uniquely and unmistakably Charles Lamb's.

E. G. J. September, 1891.

[1] Letter L.

[2] Cowley.

[3] The James Elia of the essay "My Relations."

[4] Letter I.

[5] Talfourd's Memoir.

[6] Carlyle.

[7] It would seem from Lamb's letter to Coleridge (Letter IV.) that it was he, not the landlord, who appeared thus too late, and who snatched the knife from the unconscious hand.

[8] The reader is referred to Lamb's beautiful essay, "Dream Children."

[9] If we except his passing tenderness for the young Quakeress, Hester Savory, Lamb admitted that he had never spoken to the lady in his life.

[10] Letter LXXXIII.

[11] Letters LXV IL., LXVIII., LXIX.

[12] W. S. Landor.

[13] In assuming this pseudonym Lamb borrowed the name of a fellow-clerk who had served with him thirty years before in the South Sea House,—an Italian named Elia. The name has probably never been pronounced as Lamb intended. "Call him Ellia," he said in a letter to J. Taylor, concerning this old acquaintance.

[14] Letter XVII.

[15] The rather unimportant series, "Popular Fallacies," appeared in the "New Monthly."

[16] In the essay "The Superannuated Man" Lamb describes, with certain changes and modifications, his retirement from the India House.



May 27, 1796.

Dear Coleridge,—Make yourself perfectly easy about May. I paid his bill when I sent your clothes. I was flush of money, and am so still to all the purposes of a single life; so give yourself no further concern about it. The money would be superfluous to me if I had it.

When Southey becomes as modest as his predecessor, Milton, and publishes his Epics in duodecimo, I will read 'em; a guinea a book is somewhat exorbitant, nor have I the opportunity of borrowing the work. The extracts from it in the "Monthly Review," and the short passages in your "Watchman," seem to me much superior to anything in his partnership account with Lovell. [1] Your poems I shall procure forthwith.

There were noble lines in what you inserted in one of your numbers from "Religious Musings," but I thought them elaborate. I am somewhat glad you have given up that paper; it must have been dry, unprofitable, and of dissonant mood to your disposition. I wish you success in all your undertakings, and am glad to hear you are employed about the "Evidences of Religion." There is need of multiplying such books a hundred-fold in this philosophical age, to prevent converts to atheism, for they seem too tough disputants to meddle with afterwards....

Coleridge, I know not what suffering scenes you have gone through at Bristol. My life has been somewhat diversified of late. The six weeks that finished last year and began this, your very humble servant spent very agreeably in a madhouse at Hoxton. I am got somewhat rational now, and don't bite any one. But mad I was and many a vagary my imagination played with me,—enough to make a volume, if all were told. My sonnets I have extended to the number of nine since I saw you, and will some day communicate to you. I am beginning a poem in blank verse, which, if I finish, I publish. White [2] is on the eve of publishing (he took the hint from Vortigern) "Original Letters of Falstaff, Shallow," etc.; a copy you shall have when it comes out. They are without exception the best imitations I ever saw. Coleridge, it may convince you of my regards for you when I tell you my head ran on you in my madness as much almost as on another person, who I am inclined to think was the more immediate cause of my temporary frenzy.

The sonnet I send you has small merit as poetry; but you will be curious to read it when I tell you it was written in my prison-house in one of my lucid intervals.


If from my lips some angry accents fell, Peevish complaint, or harsh reproof unkind, 'T was but the error of a sickly mind And troubled thoughts, clouding the purer well And waters clear of Reason; and for me Let this my verse the poor atonement be,— My verse, which thou to praise wert e'er inclined Too highly, and with partial eye to see No blemish. Thou to me didst ever show Kindest affection; and wouldst oft-times lend An ear to the desponding love-sick lay, Weeping my sorrows with me, who repay But ill the mighty debt of love I owe, Mary, to thee, my sister and my friend.

With these lines, and with that sister's kindest remembrances to Cottle, I conclude.

Yours sincerely,


[1] Southey had just published his "Joan of Arc," in quarto. He and Lovell had published jointly, two years before, "Poems by Bion and Moschus."

[2] A Christ's Hospital schoolfellow, the "Jem" White of the Elia essay, "The Praise of Chimney-Sweepers."



(No month) 1796.

Tuesday night.—Of your "Watchman," the review of Burke was the best prose. I augured great things from the first number. There is some exquisite poetry interspersed. I have re-read the extract from the "Religious Musings," and retract whatever invidious there was in my censure of it as elaborate. There are times when one is not in a disposition thoroughly to relish good writing. I have re-read it in a more favorable moment, and hesitate not to pronounce it sublime. If there be anything in it approaching to tumidity (which I meant not to infer; by "elaborate" I meant simply "labored"), it is the gigantic hyperbole by which you describe the evils of existing society: "snakes, lions, hyenas, and behemoths," is carrying your resentment beyond bounds. The pictures of "The Simoom," of "Frenzy and Ruin," of "The Whore of Babylon," and "The Cry of Foul Spirits disinherited of Earth," and "The Strange Beatitude" which the good man shall recognize in heaven, as well as the particularizing of the children of wretchedness (I have unconsciously included every part of it), form a variety of uniform excellence. I hunger and thirst to read the poem complete. That is a capital line in your sixth number,—

"This dark, frieze-coated, hoarse, teeth-chattering month."

They are exactly such epithets as Burns would have stumbled on, whose poem on the ploughed-up daisy you seem to have had in mind. Your complaint that of your readers some thought there was too much, some too little, original matter in your numbers, reminds me of poor dead Parsons in the "Critic." "Too little incident! Give me leave to tell you, sir, there is too much incident." I had like to have forgot thanking you for that exquisite little morsel, the first Sclavonian Song. The expression in the second, "more happy to be unhappy in hell," is it not very quaint? Accept my thanks, in common with those of all who love good poetry, for "The Braes of Yarrow." I congratulate you on the enemies you must have made by your splendid invective against the barterers in human flesh and sinews. Coleridge, you will rejoice to hear that Cowper is recovered from his lunacy, and is employed on his translation of the Italian, etc., poems of Milton for an edition where Fuseli presides as designer. Coleridge, to an idler like myself, to write and receive letters are both very pleasant; but I wish not to break in upon your valuable time by expecting to hear very frequently from you. Reserve that obligation for your moments of lassitude, when you have nothing else to do; for your loco-restive and all your idle propensities, of course, have given way to the duties of providing for a family. The mail is come in, but no parcel; yet this is Tuesday. Farewell, then, till to-morrow; for a niche and a nook I must leave for criticisms. By the way, I hope you do not send your own only copy of "Joan of Arc;" I will in that case return it immediately.

Your parcel is come; you have been lavish of your presents.

Wordsworth's poem I have hurried through, not without delight. Poor Lovell! my heart almost accuses me for the light manner I lately spoke of him, not dreaming of his death. My heart bleeds for your accumulated troubles; God send you through 'em with patience. I conjure you dream not that I will ever think of being repaid; the very word is galling to the ears. I have read all your "Religious Musings" with uninterrupted feelings of profound admiration. You may safely rest your fame on it. The best remaining things are what I have before read, and they lose nothing by my recollection of your manner of reciting 'em, for I too bear in mind "the voice, the look," of absent friends, and can occasionally mimic their manner for the amusement of those who have seen 'em. Your impassioned manner of recitation I can recall at any time to mine own heart and to the ears of the bystanders. I rather wish you had left the monody on Chatterton concluding, as, it did, abruptly. It had more of unity. The conclusion of your "Religious Musicgs," I fear, will entitle you to the reproof of your beloved woman, who wisely will not suffer your fancy to run riot, but bids you walk humbly with your God. The very last words, "I exercise my young novitiate thought in ministeries of heart-stirring song," though not now new to me, cannot be enough admired. To speak politely, they are a well-turned compliment to poetry. I hasten to read "Joan of Arc," etc. I have read your lines at the beginning of second book; [1] they are worthy of Milton, but in my mind yield to your "Religious Musings." I shall read the whole carefully, and in some future letter take the liberty to particularize my opinions of it. Of what is new to me among your poems next to the "Musings," that beginning "My Pensive Sara" gave me most pleasure. The lines in it I just alluded to are most exquisite; they made my sister and self smile, as conveying a pleasing picture of Mrs. C. checking your wild wanderings, which we were so fond of hearing you indulge when among us. It has endeared us more than anything to your good lady, and your own self-reproof that follows delighted us. 'T is a charming poem throughout (you have well remarked that charming, admirable, exquisite are the words expressive of feelings more than conveying of ideas, else I might plead very well want of room in my paper as excuse for generalizing). I want room to tell you how we are charmed with your verses in the manner of Spenser, etc. I am glad you resume the "Watchman." Change the name; leave out all articles of news, and whatever things are peculiar to newspapers, and confine yourself to ethics, verse, criticism; or, rather, do not confine yourself. Let your plan be as diffuse as the "Spectator," and I 'll answer for it the work prospers. If I am vain enough to think I can be a contributor, rely on my inclinations. Coleridge, in reading your "Religious Musings," I felt a transient superiority over you. I have seen Priestley. I love to see his name repeated in your writings. I love and honor him almost profanely. You would be charmed with his Sermons, if you never read 'em. You have doubtless read his books illustrative of the doctrine of Necessity. Prefixed to a late work of his in answer to Paine, there is a preface giving an account of the man and his services to men, written by Lindsey, his dearest friend, well worth your reading.

Tuesday Eve.—Forgive my prolixity, which is yet too brief for all I could wish to say. God give you comfort, and all that are of your household! Our loves and best good-wishes to Mrs. C.


[1] Coleridge contributed some four hundred lines to the second book of Southey's epic.



June 10, 1796.

With "Joan of Arc" I have been delighted, amazed, I had not presumed to expect anything of such excellence from Southey. Why, the poem is alone sufficient to redeem the character of the age we live in from the imputation of degenerating in poetry, were there no such beings extant as Burns, and Bowles, Cowper, and ——, —— fill up the blank how you please; I say nothing. The subject is well chosen; it opens well. To become more particular, I will notice in their order a few passages that chiefly struck me on perusal. Page 26: "Fierce and terrible Benevolence!" is a phrase full of grandeur and originality, The whole context made me feel possessed, even like Joan herself. Page 28: "It is most horrible with the keen sword to gore the finely fibred human frame," and what follows, pleased me mightily. In the second book, the first forty lines in particular are majestic and high-sounding. Indeed, the whole vision of the Palace of Ambition and what follows are supremely excellent. Your simile of the Laplander, "By Niemi's lake, or Balda Zhiok, or the mossy stone of Solfar-Kapper," [1] will bear comparison with any in Milton for fulness of circumstance and lofty-pacedness of versification. Southey's similes, though many of 'em are capital, are all inferior. In one of his books, the simile of the oak in the storm occurs, I think, four times. To return: the light in which you view the heathen deities is accurate and beautiful. Southey's personifications in this book are so many fine and faultless pictures. I was much pleased with your manner of accounting for the reason why monarchs take delight in war. At the 447th line you have placed Prophets and Enthusiasts cheek by jowl, on too intimate a footing for the dignity of the former. Necessarian-like-speaking, it is correct. Page 98: "Dead is the Douglas! cold thy warrior frame, illustrious Buchan," etc., are of kindred excellence with Gray's "Cold is Cadwallo's tongue," etc. How famously the Maid baffles the Doctors, Seraphic and Irrefragable, "with all their trumpery!" Page 126: the procession, the appearances of the Maid, of the Bastard Son of Orleans, and of Tremouille, are full of fire and fancy, and exquisite melody of versification. The personifications from line 303 to 309, in the heat of the battle, had better been omitted; they are not very striking, and only encumber. The converse which Joan and Conrade hold on the banks of the Loire is altogether beautiful. Page 313: the conjecture that in dreams "all things are that seem," is one of those conceits which the poet delights to admit into his creed,—a creed, by the way, more marvellous and mystic than ever Athanasius dreamed of. Page 315: I need only mention those lines ending with "She saw a serpent gnawing at her heart!" They are good imitative lines: "he toiled and toiled, of toil to reap no end, but endless toil and never-ending woe." Page 347: Cruelty is such as Hogarth might have painted her. Page 361: all the passage about Love (where he seems to confound conjugal love with creating and preserving love) is very confused, and sickens me with a load of useless personifications; else that ninth book is the finest in the volume,—an exquisite combination of the ludicrous and the terrible. I have never read either, even in translation, but such I conceive to be the manner of Dante or Ariosto. The tenth book is the most languid.

On the whole, considering the celerity wherewith the poem was finished, I was astonished at the unfrequency of weak lines, I had expected to find it verbose. Joan, I think, does too little in battle, Dunois perhaps the same; Conrade too much. The anecdotes interspersed among the battles refresh the mind very agreeably, and I am delighted with the very many passages of simple pathos abounding throughout the poem,—passages which the author of "Crazy Kate" might have written. Has not Master Southey spoke very slightingly in his preface and disparagingly of Cowper's Homer? What makes him reluctant to give Cowper his fame? And does not Southey use too often the expletives "did" and "does"? They have a good effect at times, but are too inconsiderable, or rather become blemishes when they mark a style. On the whole, I expect Southey one day to rival Milton; I already deem him equal to Cowper, and superior to all living poets besides. What says Coleridge? The "Monody on Henderson" is immensely good; the rest of that little volume is readable and above mediocrity? [2] I proceed to a more pleasant task,—pleasant because the poems are yours; pleasant because you impose the task on me; and pleasant, let me add, because it will confer a whimsical importance on me to sit in judgment upon your rhymes. First, though, let me thank you again and again, in my own and my sister's name, for your invitations. Nothing could give us more pleasure than to come; but (were there no other reasons) while my brother's leg is so bad, it is out of the question. Poor fellow! he is very feverish and light-headed; but Cruikshanks has pronounced the symptoms favourable, and gives us every hope that there will be no need of amputation. God send not! We are necessarily confined with him all the afternoon and evening till very late, so that I am stealing a few minutes to write to you.

Thank you for your frequent letters; you are the only correspondent and, I might add, the only friend I have in the world. I go nowhere, and have no acquaintance. Slow of speech and reserved of manners, no one seeks or cares for my society, and I am left alone. Austin calls only occasionally, as though it were a duty rather, and seldom stays ten minutes. Then judge how thankful I am for your letters! Do not, however, burden yourself with the correspondence. I trouble you again so soon only in obedience to your injunctions. Complaints apart, proceed we to our task. I am called away to tea,—thence must wait upon my brother; so must delay till to-morrow. Farewell!—Wednesday.

Thursday.—I will first notice what is new to me. Thirteenth page: "The thrilling tones that concentrate the soul" is a nervous line, and the six first lines of page 14 are very pretty, the twenty-first effusion a perfect thing. That in the manner of Spenser is very sweet, particularly at the close; the thirty-fifth effusion is most exquisite,—that line in particular, "And, tranquil, muse upon tranquillity." It is the very reflex pleasure that distinguishes the tranquillity of a thinking being from that of a shepherd,—a modern one I would be understood to mean,—a Damoetas; one that keeps other people's sheep. Certainly, Coleridge, your letter from Shurton Bars has less merit than most things in your volume; personally it may chime in best with your own feelings, and therefore you love it best. It has, however, great merit. In your fourth epistle that is an exquisite paragraph, and fancy-full, of "A stream there is which rolls in lazy flow," etc. "Murmurs sweet undersong 'mid jasmin bowers" is a sweet line, and so are the three next. The concluding simile is far-fetched; "tempest-honored" is a quaintish phrase.

Yours is a poetical family. I was much surprised and pleased to see the signature of Sara to that elegant composition, the fifth epistle. I dare not criticise the "Religious Musings;" I like not to select any part, where all is excellent. I can only admire, and thank you for it in the name of a Christian, as well as a lover of good poetry; only let me ask, is not that thought and those words in Young, "stands in the sun,"—or is it only such as Young, in one of his better moments, might have writ?

"Believe thou, O my soul, Life is a vision shadowy of Truth; And vice, and anguish, and the wormy grave, Shapes of a dream!"

I thank you for these lines in the name of a necessarian, and for what follows in next paragraph, in the name of a child of fancy. After all, you cannot nor ever will write anything with which I shall be so delighted as what I have heard yourself repeat. You came to town, and I saw you at a time when your heart was yet bleeding with recent wounds. Like yourself, I was sore galled with disappointed hope; you had

"Many an holy lay That, mourning, soothed the mourner on his way."

I had ears of sympathy to drink them in, and they yet vibrate pleasant on the sense. When I read in your little volume your nineteenth effusion, or the twenty-eighth or twenty-ninth, or what you call the "Sigh," I think I hear you again. I image to myself the little smoky room at the "Salutation and Cat," where we have sat together through the winter nights, beguiling the cares of life with poesy. When you left London, I felt a dismal void in my heart. I found myself cut off, at one and the same time, from two most dear to me, "How blest with ye the path could I have trod of quiet life!" In your conversation you had blended so many pleasant fancies that they cheated me of my grief; but in your absence the tide of melancholy rushed in again, and did its worst mischief by overwhelming my reason. I have recovered, but feel a stupor that makes me indifferent to the hopes and fears of this life. I sometimes wish to introduce a religious turn of mind; but habits are strong things, and my religious fervours are confined, alas! to some fleeting moments of occasional solitary devotion,

A correspondence, opening with you, has roused me a little from my lethargy and made me conscious of existence. Indulge me in it; I will not be very troublesome! At some future time I will amuse you with an account, as full as my memory will permit, of the strange turn my frenzy took. I look back upon it at times with, a gloomy kind of envy; for while it lasted, I had many, many hours of pure happiness. Dream not, Coleridge, of having tasted all the grandeur and wildness of fancy till you have gone mad! All now seems to me vapid,—comparatively so. Excuse this selfish digression. Your "Monody" [3] is so superlatively excellent that I can only wish it perfect, which I can't help feeling it is not quite. Indulge me in a few conjectures; what I am going to propose would make it more compressed and, I think, more energetic, though, I am sensible, at the expense of many beautiful lines. Let it begin, "Is this the land of song-ennobled line?" and proceed to "Otway's famished form;" then, "Thee, Chatterton," to "blaze of Seraphim;" then, "clad in Nature's rich array," to "orient day;" then, "but soon the scathing lightning," to "blighted land;" then, "sublime of thought," to "his bosom glows;" then

"But soon upon his poor unsheltered head Did Penury her sickly mildew shed; Ah! where are fled the charms of vernal grace, And joy's wild gleams that lightened o'er his face."

Then "youth of tumultuous soul" to "sigh," as before. The rest may all stand down to "gaze upon the waves below." What follows now may come next as detached verses, suggested by the "Monody," rather than a part of it. They are, indeed, in themselves, very sweet;

"And we, at sober eve, would round thee throng, Hanging enraptured on thy stately song!"

in particular, perhaps. If I am obscure, you may understand me by counting lines. I have proposed omitting twenty-four lines; I feel that thus compressed it would gain energy, but think it most likely you will not agree with me; for who shall go about to bring opinions to the bed of Procrustes, and introduce among the sons of men a monotony of identical feelings? I only propose with diffidence.

Reject you, if you please, with as little remorse as you would the color of a coat or the pattern of a buckle, where our fancies differed.

The "Pixies" is a perfect thing, and so are the "Lines on the Spring." page 28. The "Epitaph on an Infant," like a Jack-o'-lantern, has danced about (or like Dr. Forster's [4] scholars) out of the "Morning Chronicle" into the "Watchman," and thence back into your collection. It is very pretty, and you seem to think so, but, may be, overlooked its chief merit, that of filling up a whole page, I had once deemed sonnets of unrivalled use that way, but your Epitaphs, I find, are the more diffuse. "Edmund" still holds its place among your best verses, "Ah! fair delights" to "roses round," in your poem called "Absence," recall (none more forcibly) to my mind the tones in which you recited it, I will not notice, in this tedious (to you) manner, verses which have been so long delighful to me, and which you already know my opinion of. Of this kind are Bowles, Priestley, and that most exquisite and most Bowles-like of all, the nineteenth effusion. It would have better ended with "agony of care;" the last two lines are obvious and unnecessary; and you need not now make fourteen lines of it, now it is rechristened from a Sonnet to an Effusion.

Schiller might have written the twentieth effusion; 't is worthy of him in any sense, I was glad to meet with those lines you sent me when my sister was so ill; I had lost the copy, and I felt not a little proud at seeing my name in your verse. The "Complaint of Ninathoma" (first stanza in particular) is the best, or only good, imitation of Ossian I ever saw, your "Restless Gale" excepted. "To an Infant" is most sweet; is not "foodful," though, very harsh? Would not "dulcet" fruit be less harsh, or some other friendly bi-syllable? In "Edmund," "Frenzy! fierce-eyed child" is not so well as "frantic," though that is an epithet adding nothing to the meaning. Slander couching was better than "squatting." In the "Man of Ross" it was a better line thus,—

"If 'neath this roof thy wine-cheered moments pass,"

than as it stands now. Time nor nothing can reconcile me to the concluding five lines of "Kosciusko;" call it anything you will but sublime. In my twelfth effusion I had rather have seen what I wrote myself, though they bear no comparison with your exquisite lines,—

"On rose-leaf beds amid your faery bowers," etc.

I love my sonnets because they are the reflected images of my own feelings at different times. To instance, in the thirteenth,—

"How reason reeled," etc.,

are good lines, but must spoil the whole with me, who know it is only a fiction of yours, and that the "rude dashings" did in fact not "rock me to repose." I grant the same objection applies not to the former sonnet; but still I love my own feelings,—they are dear to memory, though they now and then wake a sigh or a tear, "Thinking on divers things fordone," I charge you, Coleridge, spare my ewe-lambs; and though a gentleman may borrow six lines in an epic poem (I should have no objection to borrow five hundred, and without acknowledging), still, in a sonnet, a personal poem, I do not ask my friend the aiding verse; I would not wrong your feelings by proposing any improvements (did I think myself capable of suggesting 'era) in such personal poems as "Thou bleedest, my poor heart,"—'od so,—I am caught,—I have already done it; but that simile I propose abridging would not change the feeling or introduce any alien ones. Do you understand me? In the twenty-eighth, however, and in the "Sigh," and that composed at Clevedon, things that come from the heart direct, not by the medium of the fancy, I would not suggest an alteration.

When my blank verse is finished, or any long fancy poem, "propino tibi alterandum, cut-up-andum, abridgeandum," just what you will with, it: but spare my ewe-lambs! That to "Mrs. Siddons' now, you were welcome to improve, if it had been worth it; but I say unto you again, Coleridge, spare my ewe-lambs! I must confess, were the mine, I should omit, in editione secunda, effusions two and three, because satiric and below the dignity of the poet of "Religious Musings," fifth, seventh, half of the eighth, that "Written in early youth," as far as "thousand eyes,"—though I part not unreluctantly with that lively line,—

"Chaste joyance dancing in her bright blue eyes,"

and one or two just thereabouts. But I would substitute for it that sweet poem called "Recollection," in the fifth number of the "Watchman," better, I think, than the remainder of this poem, though not differing materially; as the poem now stands, it looks altogether confused. And do not omit those lines upon the "Early Blossom" in your sixth number of the "Watchman;" and I would omit the tenth effusion, or what would do better, alter and improve the last four lines. In fact, I suppose, if they were mine, I should not omit 'em; but your verse is, for the most part, so exquisite that I like not to see aught of meaner matter mixed with it. Forgive my petulance and often, I fear, ill-founded criticisms, and forgive me that I have, by this time, made your eyes and head ache with my long letter; but I cannot forego hastily the pleasure and pride of thus conversing with you. You did not tell me whether I was to include the "Conciones ad Populum" in my remarks on your poems. They are not unfrequently sublime, and I think you could not do better than to turn 'em into verse,—if you have nothing else to do. Austin, I am sorry to say, is a confirmed atheist. Stoddart, a cold-hearted, well-bred, conceited disciple of Godwin, does him no good. His wife has several daughters (one of 'em as old as himself). Surely there is something unnatural in such a marriage.

How I sympathize with you on the dull duty of a reviewer, and heartily damn with you Ned Evans and the Prosodist! I shall, however, wait impatiently for the articles in the "Critical Review" next month, because they are yours. Young Evans (W. Evans, a branch of a family you were once so intimate with) is come into our office, and sends his love to you. Coleridge, I devoutly wish that Fortune, who lias made sport with you so long, may play one freak more, throw you into London or some spot near it, and there snug-ify you for life. 'Tis a selfish but natural wish for me, cast as I am on life's wide plain, friendless," Are you acquainted with Bowles? I see by his last Elegy (written at Bath) you are near neighbors,—Thursday.

"And I can think I can see the groves again;" "Was it the voice of thee;" "Turns not the voice of thee, my buried friend;" "Who dries with her dark locks the tender tear,"—are touches as true to Nature as any in his other Elegy, written at the Hot Wells, about poor Kassell, etc. You are doubtless acquainted with it,

I do not know that I entirely agree with you in your stricture upon my sonnet "To Innocence," To men whose hearts are not quite deadened by their commerce with the world, innocence (no longer familiar) becomes an awful idea. So I felt when I wrote it. Your other censures (qualified and sweetened, though, with praises somewhat extravagant) I perfectly coincide with: yet I choose to retain the word "lunar,"—indulge a "lunatic" in his loyalty to his mistress the moon! I have just been reading a most pathetic copy of verses on Sophia Pringle, who was hanged and burned for coining. One of the strokes of pathos (which are very many, all somewhat obscure) is, "She lifted up her guilty forger to heaven." A note explains, by "forger," her right hand, with which she forged or coined the base metal. For "pathos" read "bathos." You have put me out of conceit with my blank verse by your "Religious Musings." I think it will come to nothing. I do not like 'em enough to send 'em. I have just been reading a book, which I may be too partial to, as it was the delight of my childhood; but I will recommend it to you,—it is Izaak Walton's "Complete Angler." All the scientific part you may omit in reading. The dialogue is very simple, full of pastoral beauties, and will charm you. Many pretty old verses are interspersed. This letter, which would be a week's work reading only, I do not wish you to answer in less than a month. I shall be richly content with a letter from you some day early in July; though, if you get anyhow settled before then, pray let me know it immediately; 't would give me much satisfaction. Concerning the Unitarian chapel, the salary is the only scruple that the most rigid moralist would admit as valid. Concerning the tutorage, is not the salary low, and absence from your family unavoidable? London is the only fostering soil for genius. Nothing more occurs just now; so I will leave you, in mercy, one small white spot empty below, to repose your eyes upon, fatigued as they must be with the wilderness of words they have by this time painfully travelled through. God love you, Coleridge, and prosper you through life! though mine will be loss if your lot is to be cast at Bristol, or at Nottingham, or anywhere but London. Our loves to Mrs. C—. C. L.

[1] Lapland mountains. From Coleridge's "Destiny of Nations."

[2] The "Monody" referred to was by Cottle, and appeared in a volume of poems published by him at Bristol in 1795. Coleridge had forwarded the book to Lamb for his opinion.

[3] The Monody on Chatterton.

[4] Dr. Faustus's.



June 14, 1796,

I am not quite satisfied now with the Chatterton, [1] and with your leave will try my hand at it again. A master-joiner, you know, may leave a cabinet to be finished, when his own hands are full. To your list of illustrative personifications, into which a fine imagination enters, I will take leave to add the following from Beaumont and Fletcher's "Wife for a Month;" 'tis the conclusion of a description of a sea-fight: "The game of death was never played so nobly; the meagre thief grew wanton in his mischiefs, and his shrunk, hollow eyes smiled on his ruins." There is fancy in these of a lower order from "Bonduca": "Then did I see these valiant men of Britain, like boding owls creep into tods of ivy, and hoot their fears to one another nightly." Not that it is a personification, only it just caught my eye in a little extract-book I keep, which is full of quotations from B. and F. in particular, in which authors I can't help thinking there is a greater richness of poetical fancy than in any one, Shakspeare excepted. Are you acquainted with Massinger? At a hazard I will trouble you with a passage from a play of his called "A Very Woman." The lines are spoken by a lover (disguised) to his faithless mistress. You will remark the fine effect of the double endings.

You will by your ear distinguish the lines, for I write 'em as prose. "Not far from where my father lives, a lady, a neighbor by, blest with as great a beauty as Nature durst bestow without undoing, dwelt, and most happily, as I thought then, and blest the house a thousand times she dwelt in. This beauty, in the blossom of my youth, when my first fire knew no adulterate incense, nor I no way to flatter but my fondness; in all the bravery my friends could show me, in all the faith my innocence could give me, in the best language my true tongue could tell me, and all the broken sighs my sick heart lend me, I sued and served; long did I serve this lady, long was my travail, long my trade to win her; with all the duty of my soul I SERVED HER." "Then she must love." "She did, but never me: she could not love me; she would not love, she hated,—more, she scorned me; and in so a poor and base a way abused me for all my services, for all my bounties, so bold neglects flung on me." "What out of love, and worthy love, I gave her (shame to her most unworthy mind!), to fools, to girls, to fiddlers and her boys she flung, all in disdain of me." One more passage strikes my eye from B. and F.'s "Palamon and Arcite." One of 'em complains in prison: "This is all our world; we shall know nothing here but one another, hear nothing but the clock that tells us our woes; the vine shall grow, but we shall never see it," etc. Is not the last circumstance exquisite? I mean not to lay myself open by saying they exceed Milton, and perhaps Collins in sublimity. But don't you conceive all poets after Shakspeare yield to 'em in variety of genius? Massinger treads close on their heels; but you are most probably as well acquainted with his writings as your humble servant. My quotations, in that case, will only serve to expose my barrenness of matter. Southey in simplicity and tenderness is excelled decidedly only, I think, by Beaumont and F. in his "Maid's Tragedy," and some parts of "Philaster" in particular, and elsewhere occasionally; and perhaps by Cowper in his "Crazy Kate," and in parts of his translation, such as the speeches of Hecuba and Andromache. I long to know your opinion of that translation. The Odyssey especially is surely very Homeric. What nobler than the appearance of Phoebus at the beginning of the Iliad,—the lines ending with "Dread sounding, bounding on the silver bow!"

I beg you will give me your opinion of the translation; it afforded me high pleasure. As curious a specimen of translation as ever fell into my hands, is a young man's in our office, of a French novel. What in the original was literally "amiable delusions of the fancy," he proposed, to render "the fair frauds of the imagination." I had much trouble in licking the book into any meaning at all. Yet did the knave clear fifty or sixty pounds by subscription and selling the copyright. The book itself not a week's work! To-day's portion of my journalizing epistle has been very dull and poverty-stricken. I will here end.

Tuesday night,

I have been drinking egg-hot and smoking Oronooko (associated circumstances, which ever forcibly recall to my mind our evenings and nights at the "Salutation"). My eyes and brain are heavy and asleep, but my heart is awake; and if words came as ready as ideas, and ideas as feelings, I could say ten hundred kind things. Coleridge, you know not my supreme happiness at having one on earth (though counties separate us) whom I can call a friend. Remember you those tender lines of Logan?—

"Our broken friendships we deplore, And loves of youth that are no more; No after friendships e'er can raise Th' endearments of our early days, And ne'er the heart such fondness prove, As when we first began to love."

I am writing at random, and half-tipsy, what you may not equally understand, as you will be sober when you read it; but my sober and my half-tipsy hours you are alike a sharer in. Good night.

"Then up rose our bard, like a prophet in drink, Craigdoroch, thou'lt soar when creation shall sink."


[1] Coleridge's "Monody" on Chatterton.



September 27, 1796.

My Dearest Friend,—White, or some of my friends, or the public papers, by this time may have informed you of the terrible calamities that have fallen on our family. I will only give you the outlines: My poor dear, dearest sister, in a fit of insanity, has been the death of her own mother. I was at hand only time enough to snatch the knife out of her grasp. She is at present in a madhouse, from whence I fear she must be moved to an hospital. God has preserved to me my senses,—I eat, and drink, and sleep, and have my judgment, I believe, very sound. My poor father was slightly wounded, and I am left to take care of him and my aunt. Mr, Norris, of the Blue-coat School, has been very kind to us, and we have no other friend; but, thank God, I am very calm and composed, and able to do the best that remains to do. Write as religious a letter as possible, but no mention of what is gone and done with. With me "the former things are passed away," and I have something more to do than to feel.

God Almighty have us all in his keeping!


Mention nothing of poetry. I have destroyed every vestige of past vanities of that kind. Do as you please, but if you publish, publish mine (I give free leave) without name or initial, and never send me a book, I charge you.

Your own judgment will convince you not to take any notice of this yet to your dear wife. You look after your family; I have my reason and strength left to take care of mine. I charge you, don't think of coming to see me. Write. I will not see you, if you come, God Almighty love you and all of us!




October 3, 1796.

My dearest friend,—Your letter was an inestimable treasure to me. It will be a comfort to you, I know, to know that our prospects are somewhat brighter. My poor dear, dearest sister, the unhappy and unconscious instrument of the Almighty's judgments on our house, is restored to her senses, to a dreadful sense and recollection of what has past, awful to her mind and impressive (as it must be to the end of life), but tempered with religious resignation and the reasonings of a sound judgment, which in this early stage knows how to distinguish between a deed committed in a transient fit of frenzy, and the terrible guilt of a mother's murder. I have seen her. I found her, this morning, calm and serene; far, very, very far, from an indecent, forgetful serenity. She has a most affectionate and tender concern for what has happened. Indeed, from the beginning, frightful and hopeless as her disorder seemed, I had confidence enough in her strength of mind and religious principle to look forward to a time when even she might recover tranquillity. God be praised, Coleridge, wonderful as it is to tell, I have never once been otherwise than collected and calm; even on the dreadful day and in the midst of the terrible scene, I preserved a tranquillity which bystanders may have construed into indifference,—a tranquillity not of despair. Is it folly or sin in me to say that it was a religious principle that most supported me? I allow much to other favorable circumstances. I felt that I had something else to do than to regret. On that first evening my aunt was lying insensible, to all appearance like one dying; my father with his poor forehead plastered over, from a wound he had received from a daughter dearly loved by him, and who loved him no less dearly; my mother a dead and murdered corpse in the next room,—yet was I wonderfully supported, I dosed not my eyes in sleep that night, but lay without terrors and without despair, I have lost no sleep since, I had been long used not to rest in things of sense,—had endeavored after a comprehension of mind unsatisfied with the "ignorant present time;" and this kept me up. I had the whole weight of the family thrown on me; for my brother, [1] little disposed (I speak not without tenderness for him) at any time to take care of old age and infirmities, had now, with his bad leg, an exemption from such duties; and I was now left alone.

One little incident may serve to make you understand my way of managing my mind, Within a day or two after the fatal one, we dressed for dinner a tongue which we had had salted for some weeks in the house. As I sat down, a feeling like remorse struck me: this tongue poor Mary got for me, and can I partake of it now, when she is far away? A thought occurred and relieved me; if I give in to this way of feeling, there is not a chair, a room, an object in our rooms, that will not awaken the keenest griefs; I must rise above such weaknesses. I hope this was not want of true feeling. I did not let this carry me, though, too far. On the very second day (I date from the day of horrors), as is usual in such cases, there were a matter of twenty people, I do think, supping in our room; they prevailed on me to eat with them (for to eat I never refused). They were all making merry in the room! Some had come from friendship, some from busy curiosity, and some from interest. I was going to partake with them, when my recollection came that my poor dead mother was lying in the next room,—the very next room; a mother who through life wished nothing but her children's welfare. Indignation, the rage of grief, something like remorse, rushed upon my mind. In an agony of emotion I found my, way mechanically to 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. Tranquillity returned, and it was the only violent emotion that mastered me; and I think it did me good.

I mention these things because I hate concealment, and love to give a faithful journal of what passes within me. Our friends have been very good. Sam Le Grice, [2] who was then in town, was with me the three or four first days, and was as a brother to me, gave up every hour of his time, to the very hurting of his health and spirits, in constant attendance and humoring my poor father; talked with him, read to him, played at cribbage with him (for so short is the old man's recollection that he was playing at cards, as though nothing had happened, while the coroner's inquest was sitting over the way!). Samuel wept tenderly when he went away, for his mother wrote him a very severe letter on his loitering so long in town, and he was forced to go. Mr. Norris, of Christ's Hospital, has been as a father to me, Mrs. Norris as a mother, though we had few claims on them. A gentleman, brother to my god-mother, from whom we never had right or reason to expect any such assistance, sent my father twenty pounds; and to crown all these God's blessings to our family at such a time, an old lady, a cousin of my father and aunt's, a gentlewoman of fortune, is to take my aunt and make her comfortable for the short remainder of her days. My aunt is recovered, and as well as ever, and highly pleased at thoughts of going, and has generously given up the interest of her little money (which was formerly paid my father for her board) wholely and solely to my sister's use. Reckoning this, we have, Daddy and I, for oar two selves and an old maid-servant to look after him when I am out, which will be necessary, L170, or L180 rather, a year, out of which we can spare L50 or L60 at least for Mary while she stays at Islington, where she roust and shall stay during her father's life, for his and her comfort. I know John will make speeches about it, but she shall not go into an hospital. The good lady of the madhouse and her daughter, an elegant, sweet-behaved young lady, love her, and are taken with her amazingly; and I know from her own mouth she loves them, and longs to be with them as much. Poor thing, they say she was but the other morning saying she knew she must go to Bethlem for life; that one of her brothers would have it so, but the other would wish it not, but be obliged to go with the stream; that she had often, as she passed Bethlem, thought it likely, "here it may be my fate to end my days," conscious of a certain flightiness in her poor head oftentimes, and mindful of more than one severe illness of that nature before. A legacy of L100 which my father will have at Christmas, and this L20 I mentioned before, with what is in the house, will much more than set us clear. If my father, an old servant-maid, and I can't live, and live comfortably, on L130 or L120 a year, we ought to burn by slow fires; and I almost would, that Mary might not go into an hospital.

Let me not leave one unfavorable impression on your mind respecting my brother. Since this has happened, he has been very kind and brotherly; but I fear for his mind. He has taken his ease in the world, and is not fit himself to struggle with difficulties, nor has much accustomed himself to throw himself into their way; and I know his language is already, "Charles, you must take care of yourself, you must not abridge yourself of a single pleasure you have been used to," etc., and in that style of talking. But you, a necessarian, can respect a difference of mind, and love what is amiable in a character not perfect. He has been very good, but I fear for his mind. Thank God, I can unconnect myself with him, and shall manage all my father's moneys in future myself, if I take charge of Daddy, which poor John has not even hinted a wish, at any future time even, to share with me. The lady at this madhouse assures me that I may dismiss immediately both doctor and apothecary, retaining occasionally a composing draught or so for a while; and there is a less expensive establishment in her house, where she will only not have a room and nurse to herself, for L50 or guineas a year,—the outside would be L60. You know, by economy, how much more even I shall be able to spare for her comforts. She will, I fancy, if she stays, make one of the family rather than of the patients; and the old and young ladies I like exceedingly, and she loves dearly; and they, as the saying is, take to her very extraordinarily, if it is extraordinary that people who see my sister should love her.

Of all the people I ever saw in the world, my poor sister was most and thoroughly devoid of the least tincture of selfishness, I will enlarge upon her qualities, poor dear, dearest soul, in a future letter, for my own comfort, for I understand her thoroughly; and if I mistake not, in the most trying situation that a human being can be found in, she will be found (I speak not with sufficient humility, I fear, but humanly and foolishly speaking),—she will be found, I trust, uniformly great and amiable. God keep her in her present mind, to whom be thanks and praise for all His dispensations to mankind!


These mentioned good fortunes and change of prospects had almost brought my mind over to the extreme the very opposite to despair. I was in danger of making myself too happy. Your letter brought me back to a view of things which I had entertained from the beginning. I hope (for Mary I can answer)—but I hope that I shall through life never have less recollection, nor a fainter impression, of what has happened than I have now. 'T is not a light thing, nor meant by the Almighty to be received lightly. I must be serious, circumspect, and deeply religious through life; and by such means may both of us escape madness in future, if it so please the Almighty!

Send me word how it fares with Sara. I repeat it, your letter was, and will be, an inestimable treasure to me. You have a view of what my situation demands of me, like my own view, and I trust a just one.

Coleridge, continue to write, but do not forever offend me by talking of sending me cash. Sincerely and on my soul, we do not want it. God love you both!

I will write again very soon. Do you write directly.

[1] John Lamb, the "James Elia" of the essay "My Relations."

[2] A Christ's Hospital schoolfellow.



October 17, 1796.

My dearest friend,—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. Is it an untoward fatality (speaking humanly) that does this for you,—a stubborn, irresistible concurrence of events,—or lies the fault, as I fear it does, in your own mind? You seem to be taking up splendid schemes of fortune only to lay them down again; and your fortunes are an ignis fatuus that has been conducting you in thought from Lancaster Court, Strand, to somewhere near Matlock; then jumping across to Dr. Somebody's, whose son's tutor you were likely to be; and would to God the dancing demon may conduct you at last in peace and comfort to the "life and labours of a cottager"! You see from the above awkward playfulness of fancy that my spirits are not quite depressed. I should ill deserve God's blessings, which, since the late terrible event, have come down in mercy upon us, if I indulge in regret or querulousness. Mary continues serene and cheerful. I have not by me a little letter she wrote to me; for though I see her almost every day, yet we delight to write to one another, for we can scarce see each other but in company with some of the people of the house. I have not the letter by me, but will quote from memory what she wrote in it: "I have no bad, terrifying dreams. At midnight, when I happen to awake, the nurse sleeping by the side of me, with the noise of the poor mad people around me, I have no fear. The spirit of my mother seems to descend and smile upon me, and bid me live to enjoy the life and reason which the Almighty has given me. I shall see her again in heaven; she will then understand me better. My grandmother, too, will understand me better, and will then say no more, as she used to do, 'Polly, what are those poor crazy, moythered brains of yours thinking of always?'" Poor Mary! my mother indeed never understood her right. She loved her, as she loved us all, with a mother's love; but in opinion, in feeling and sentiment and disposition, bore so distant a resemblance to her daughter that she never understood her right,—never could believe how much she loved her, but met her caresses, her protestations of filial affection, too frequently with coldness and repulse. Still, she was a good mother. God forbid I should think of her but most respectfully, most affectionately. Yet she would always love my brother above Mary, who was not worthy of one tenth of that affection which Mary had a right to claim. But it is my sister's gratifying recollection that every act of duty and of love she could pay, every kindness (and I speak true, when I say to the hurting of her health, and most probably in great part to the derangement of her senses) through a long course of infirmities and sickness she could show her, she ever did. I will some day, as I promised, enlarge to you upon my sister's excellences; 't will seem like exaggeration, but I will do it. At present, short letters suit my state of mind best. So take my kindest wishes for your comfort and establishment in life, and for Sara's welfare and comforts with you. God love you; God love us all!

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