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Works of Charles and Mary Lamb. VI-VII. Letters
Charles Lamb to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, [10 January 1797]

Contents vol. VI
Letters: 1796
Letters: 1797
Letters: 1798
Letters: 1799
Letters: 1800
Letters: 1801
Letters: 1802
Letters: 1803
Letters: 1804
Letters: 1805
Letters: 1806
Letters: 1807
Letters: 1808
Letters: 1809
Letters: 1810
Letters: 1811
Letters: 1812
Letters: 1814
Letters: 1815
Letters: 1816
Letters: 1817
Letters: 1818
Letters: 1819
Letters: 1820
Letters: 1821
Contents vol. VII
Letters: 1821
Letters: 1822
Letters: 1823
Letters: 1824
Letters: 1825
Letters: 1826
Letters: 1827
Letters: 1828
Letters: 1829
Letters: 1830
Letters: 1831
Letters: 1832
Letters: 1833
Letters: 1834
Appendix I
Appendix II
Appendix III
List of Letters
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[p.m. Jan. 10, 1797.]

I AM completely reconciled to that second strophe, and wa[i]ve all objection. In spite of the Grecian Lyrists, I persist on [in] thinking your brief personification of Madness useless; reverence
forbids me to say, impertinent. Golden locks and snow white glories are as incongruous as your former, and if the great Italian painters, of whom my friend knows about as much as the man in the moon, if these great gentlemen be on your side, I see no harm in retaining the purple—the glories that I have observed to encircle the heads of saints and madonnas in those old paintings have been mostly of a dirty drab-color’d yellow—a dull gambogium. Keep your old line: it will excite a confused kind of pleasurable idea in the reader’s mind, not clear enough to be called a conception, nor just enough, I think, to reduce to painting. It is a rich line, you say, and riches hide a many faults. I maintain, that in the 2d antist: you do disjoin Nature and the world, and contrary to your conduct in the 2d strophe. “Nature joins her groans”—joins with whom, a God’s name, but the world or earth in line preceding? But this is being over curious, I acknowledge. Nor did I call the last line useless, I only objected to “unhurld.” I cannot be made to like the former part of that 2d Epode; I cannot be made to feel it, as I do the parallel places in Isaiah, Jeremy and Daniel. Whether it is that in the present case the rhyme impairs the efficacy; or that the circumstances are feigned, and we are conscious of a made up lye in the case, and the narrative is too long winded to preserve the semblance of truth; or that lines 8. 9. 10. 14 in partic: 17 and 18 are mean and unenthusiastic; or that lines 5 to 8 in their change of rhyme shew like art—I don’t know, but it strikes me as something meant to affect, and failing in its purpose. Remember my waywardness of feeling is single, and singly stands opposed to all your friends, and what is one among many! This I know, that your quotations from the prophets have never escaped me, and never fail’d to affect me strongly. I hate that simile. I am glad you have amended that parenthesis in the account of Destruction. I like it well now. Only utter [? omit] that history of child-bearing, and all will do well. Let the obnoxious Epode remain, to terrify such of your friends as are willing to be terrified. I think I would omit the Notes, not as not good per se, but as uncongenial with the dignity of the Ode. I need not repeat my wishes to have my little sonnets printed verbatim my last way. In particular, I fear lest you should prefer printing my first sonnet, as you have done more than once, “did the wand of Merlin wave”? It looks so like Mr. Merlin, the ingenious successor of the immortal Merlin, now living in good health and spirits, and flourishing in magical reputation in Oxford Street; and on my life, one half who read it would understand it so. Do put ’em forth finally as I have, in various letters, settled it; for first a man’s self is to be pleased, and then his friends,—and, of course the greater number of his friends, if they differ inter se. Thus taste may safely be put to
the vote. I do long to see our names together—not for vanity’s sake, and naughty pride of heart altogether, for not a living soul, I know or am intimate with, will scarce read the book—so I shall gain nothing quoad famam,—and yet there is a little vanity mixes in it, I cannot help denying. I am aware of the unpoetical cast of the 6 last lines of my last sonnet, and think myself unwarranted in smuggling so tame a thing into the book; only the sentiments of those 6 lines are thoroughly congenial to me in my state of mind, and I wish to accumulate perpetuating tokens of my affection to poor
Mary; that it has no originality in its cast, nor anything in the feelings, but what is common and natural to thousands, nor aught properly called poetry, I see; still it will tend to keep present to my mind a view of things which I ought to indulge. These 6 lines, too, have not, to a reader, a connectedness with the foregoing. Omit it, if you like.—What a treasure it is to my poor indolent and unemployed mind, thus to lay hold on a subject to talk about, tho’ ’tis but a sonnet and that of the lowest order. How mournfully inactive I am!—’Tis night: good-night.

My sister, I thank God, is nigh recovered. She was seriously ill. Do, in your next letter, and that right soon, give me some satisfaction respecting your present situation at Stowey. Is it a farm you have got? and what does your worship know about farming? Coleridge, I want you to write an Epic poem. Nothing short of it can satisfy the vast capacity of true poetic genius. Having one great End to direct all your poetical faculties to, and on which to lay out your hopes, your ambition, will shew you to what you are equal. By the sacred energies of Milton, by the dainty sweet and soothing phantasies of honeytongued Spenser, I adjure you to attempt the Epic. Or do something more ample than writing an occasional brief ode or sonnet; something “to make yourself for ever known,—to make the age to come your own”. But I prate; doubtless you meditate something. When you are exalted among the Lords of Epic fame, I shall recall with pleasure, and exultingly, the days of your humility, when you disdained not to put forth in the same volume with mine, your religious musings, and that other poem from the Joan of Arc, those promising first fruits of high renown to come. You have learning, you have fancy, you have enthusiasm—you have strength and amplitude of wing enow for flights like those I recommend. In the vast and unexplored regions of fairyland, there is ground enough unfound and uncultivated; search there, and realize your favourite Susquehanah scheme. In all our comparisons of taste, I do not know whether I have ever heard your opinion of a poet, very dear to me, the now out of fashion Cowley—favor me with your judgment of him, and tell me if his prose essays, in particular, as well as no inconsiderable
part of his verse, be not delicious. I prefer the graceful rambling of his essays, even to the courtly elegance and ease of
Addison— abstracting from this the latter’s exquisite humour. Why is not your poem on Burns in the Monthly Magazine? I was much disappointed. I have a pleasurable but confused remembrance of it.

When the little volume is printed, send me 3 or 4, at all events not more than 6 copies, and tell me if I put you to any additional expence, by printing with you. I have no thought of the kind, and in that case, must reimburse you. My epistle is a model of unconnectedness, but I have no partic: subject to write on, and must proportion my scribble in some degree to the increase of postage. It is not quite fair, considering how burdensome your correspondence from different quarters must be, to add to it with so little shew of reason. I will make an end for this evening. Sunday Even:—Farewell.

Priestly, whom I sin in almost adoring, speaks of “such a choice of company, as tends to keep up that right bent, and firmness of mind, which a necessary intercourse with the world would otherwise warp and relax. Such fellowship is the true balsam of life, its cement is infinitely more durable than that of the friendships of the world, and it looks for its proper fruit, and complete gratification, to the life beyond the Grave.” Is there a possible chance for such an one as me to realize in this world, such friendships? Where am I to look for ’em? What testimonials shall I bring of my being worthy of such friendship? Alas! the great and good go together in separate Herds, and leave such as me to lag far far behind in all intellectual, and far more grievous to say, in all moral, accomplishments. Coleridge, I have not one truly elevated character among my acquaintance: not one Christian: not one but undervalues Christianity. Singly what am I to do? Wesley (have you read his life? was he not an elevated character?) Wesley has said, “Religion is not a solitary thing.” Alas! it necessarily is so with me, or next to solitary. ’Tis true, you write to me. But correspondence by letter, and personal intimacy, are very widely different. Do, do write to me, and do some good to my mind, already how much “warped and relaxed” by the world!—’Tis the conclusion of another evening. Good night. God have us all in his keeping.

If you are sufficiently at leisure, oblige me with an account of your plan of life at Stowey—your literary occupations and prospects—in short make me acquainted with every circumstance, which, as relating to you, can be interesting to me. Are you yet a Berkleyan? Make me one. I rejoice in being, speculatively, a necessarian. Would to God, I were habitually a practical one. Confirm me in the faith of that great and glorious doctrine, and keep me steady
in the contemplation of it. You sometime since exprest an intention you had of finishing some extensive work on the Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion. Have you let that intention go? Or are you doing any thing towards it? Make to yourself other ten talents. My letter is full of nothingness. I talk of nothing. But I must talk. I love to write to you. I take a pride in it. It makes me think less meanly of myself. It makes me think myself not totally disconnected from the better part of Mankind. I know, I am too dissatisfied with the beings around me,—but I cannot help occasionally exclaiming “Woe is me, that I am constrained to dwell with Meshech, and to have my habitation among the tents of Kedar”—I know I am no ways better in practice than my neighbours—but I have a taste for religion, an occasional earnest aspiration after perfection, which they have not. I gain nothing by being with such as myself—we encourage one another in mediocrity—I am always longing to be with men more excellent than myself. All this must sound odd to you; but these are my predominant feelings, when I sit down to write to you, and I should put force upon my mind, were I to reject them. Yet I rejoyce, and feel my privilege with gratitude, when I have been reading some wise book, such as I have just been reading—
Priestley on Philosophical necessity—in the thought that I enjoy a kind of communion, a kind of friendship even, with the great and good. Books are to me instead of friends. I wish they did not resemble the latter in their scarceness.—And how does little David Hartley? “Ecquid in antiquam virtutem?”—does his mighty name work wonders yet upon his little frame, and opening mind? I did not distinctly understand you,—you don’t mean to make an actual ploughman of him? Mrs. C is no doubt well,—give my kindest respects to her. Is Lloyd with you yet?—are you intimate with Southey? What poems is he about to publish—he hath a most prolific brain, and is indeed a most sweet poet. But how can you answer all the various mass of interrogation I have put to you in the course of this sheet. Write back just what you like, only write something, however brief. I have now nigh finished my page, and got to the end of another evening (Monday evening)—and my eyes are heavy and sleepy, and my brain unsuggestive. I have just heart enough awake to say Good night once more, and God love you my dear friend, God love us all. Mary bears an affectionate remembrance of you.

Charles Lamb.