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Works of Charles and Mary Lamb. VI-VII. Letters
Letters: 1798

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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Produced by CATH
January 28th, 1798.

YOU have writ me many kind letters, and I have answered none of them. I don’t deserve your attentions. An unnatural indifference has been creeping on me since my last misfortunes, or I should have seized the first opening of a correspondence with you. To you I owe much under God. In my brief acquaintance with you in London, your conversations won me to the better cause, and rescued me from the polluting spirit of the world. I might have been a worthless character without you; as it is, I do possess a certain improvable portion of devotional feelings, tho’ when I view myself in the light of divine truth, and not according to the common measures of human judgment, I am altogether corrupt and sinful. This is no cant. I am very sincere.

These last afflictions, Coleridge, have failed to soften and bend my will. They found me unprepared. My former calamities
produced in me a spirit of humility and a spirit of prayer. I thought they had sufficiently disciplined me; but the event ought to humble me. If God’s judgments now fail to take away from me the heart of stone, what more grievous trials ought I not to expect? I have been very querulous, impatient under the rod—full of little jealousies and heartburnings.—I had well nigh quarrelled with
Charles Lloyd; and for no other reason, I believe, than that the good creature did all he could to make me happy. The truth is, I thought he tried to force my mind from its natural and proper bent; he continually wished me to be from home; he was drawing me from the consideration of my poor dear Mary’s situation, rather than assisting me to gain a proper view of it with religious consolations. I wanted to be left to the tendency of my own mind in a solitary state which, in times past, I knew had led to quietness and a patient bearing of the yoke. He was hurt that I was not more constantly with him; but he was living with White, a man to whom I had never been accustomed to impart my dearest feelings, tho’ from long habits of friendliness, and many a social and good quality, I loved him very much. I met company there sometimes—indiscriminate company. Any society almost, when I am in affliction, is sorely painful to me. I seem to breathe more freely, to think more collectedly, to feel more properly and calmly, when alone. All these things the good creature did with the kindest intentions in the world, but they produced in me nothing but soreness and discontent. I became, as he complained, “jaundiced” towards him . . . but he has forgiven me—and his smile, I hope, will draw all such humours from me. I am recovering, God be praised for it, a healthiness of mind, something like calmness—but I want more religion—I am jealous of human helps and leaning-places. I rejoice in your good fortunes. May God at the last settle you!—You have had many and painful trials; humanly speaking they are going to end; but we should rather pray that discipline may attend us thro’ the whole of our lives. . . . A careless and a dissolute spirit has advanced upon me with large strides—pray God that my present afflictions may be sanctified to me! Mary is recovering, but I see no opening yet of a situation for her; your invitation went to my very heart, but you have a power of exciting interest, of leading all hearts captive, too forcible to admit of Mary’s being with you. I consider her as perpetually on the brink of madness. I think you would almost make her dance within an inch of the precipice: she must be with duller fancies and cooler intellects, know a young man of this description, who has suited her these twenty years, and may live to do so still, if we are one day restored to each other. In answer to your suggestions of occupation for
me, I must say that I do not think my capacity altogether suited for disquisitions of that kind. . . . I have read little, I have a very weak memory, and retain little of what I read; am unused to composition in which any methodising is required; but I thank you sincerely for the hint, and shall receive it as far as I am able: that is, endeavour to engage my mind in some constant and innocent pursuit. I know my capacities better than you do.

Accept my kindest love, and believe me yours, as ever.

C. L

[The first letter that has been preserved since September of the previous year. In the meantime Lamb had begun to work on Rosamund Gray, probably upon an impulse gained from the visit to Stowey, and was also arranging to join Lloyd, who was living in London with White, in the volume of poems to be called Blank Verse. Southey, writing many years later to Edward Moxon, said of Lloyd and White: “No two men could be imagined more unlike each other; Lloyd had no drollery in his nature; White seemed to have nothing else. You will easily understand how Lamb could sympathise with both.”

The new calamity to which Lamb refers in this letter was probably a relapse in Mary Lamb’s condition. When he last mentioned her she was so far better as to be able to be moved into lodgings at Hackney: all that good was now undone. Coleridge seems to have suggested that she should visit Stowey.

It was about this time that Lamb wrote the poem “The Old Familiar Faces,” which I quote below in its original form, afterwards changed by the omission of the first four lines:—

Where are they gone, the old familiar faces?
I had a mother, but she died, and left me,
Died prematurely in a day of horrors—
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
I have had playmates, I have had companions,
In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days—
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
I have been laughing, I have been carousing,
Drinking late, sitting late, with my bosom cronies—
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
I loved a love once, fairest among women.
Closed are her doors on me, I must not see her—
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
I have a friend, a kinder friend has no man.
Like an ingrate, I left my friend abruptly;
Left him, to muse on the old familiar faces.
Ghost-like, I paced round the haunts of my childhood.
Earth seem’d a desert I was bound to traverse,
Seeking to find the old familiar faces.
Friend of my bosom, thou more than a brother!
Why wert not thou born in my father’s dwelling?
So might we talk of the old familiar faces.
For some they have died, and some they have left me,
And some are taken from me; all are departed;
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
January, 1798.

It is conjectured by Mr. J. A. Rutter, and there is much reason to believe it a right theory, especially when taken into connection with the present letter, that Lloyd was the friend of the fifth stanza and Coleridge the friend of the seventh. The italicised half line might refer to “Anna,” but, since she is mentioned in the fourth stanza, it more probably, I think, refers to Mary Lamb, who, as we have seen, had been so ill as to necessitate removal from Hackney into more special confinement again. (This, however, is largely conjecture.)

The letter was addressed to Coleridge at the Reverend A. Rowe’s, Shrewsbury. Coleridge had been offered the Unitarian pulpit at Shrewsbury and was on the point of accepting when he received news of the annuity of £150 which Josiah and Thomas Wedgwood had settled upon him.

Between this letter and the next certainly came other letters to Coleridge, now lost, one of which is referred to by Coleridge in the letter to Lamb quoted below.]

[No date. Early Summer, 1798.]
Theses Quædam Theologicæ

1. “WHETHER God loves a lying Angel better than a true Man?

2. Whether the Archangel Uriel could affirm an untruth? and if he could whether he would?


3. Whether Honesty be an angelic virtue? or not rather to be reckoned among those qualities which the Schoolmen term ‘Virtutes minus splendidæ et terræ et hominis participes’?

4. Whether the higher order of Seraphim Illuminati ever sneer?

5. Whether pure intelligences can love?

6. Whether the Seraphim Ardentes do not manifest their virtues by the way of vision and theory? and whether practice be not a sub-celestial and merely human virtue?

7. Whether the Vision Beatific be anything more or less than a perpetual representment to each individual Angel of his own present attainments and future capabilities, somehow in the manner of mortal looking-glasses, reflecting a perpetual complacency and self-satisfaction?

8 and last. Whether an immortal and amenable soul may not come to be damned at last, and the man never suspect it beforehand?

Learned Sir, my Friend,

Presuming on our long habits of friendship and emboldened further by your late liberal permission to avail myself of your correspondence, in case I want any knowledge, (which I intend to do when I have no Encyclopædia or Lady’s Magazine at hand to refer to in any matter of science,) I now submit to your enquiries the above Theological Propositions, to be by you defended, or oppugned, or both, in the Schools of Germany, whither I am told you are departing, to the utter dissatisfaction of your native Devonshire and regret of universal England; but to my own individual consolation if thro’ the channel of your wished return, Learned Sir, my Friend, may be transmitted to this our Island, from those famous Theological Wits of Leipsic and Gottingen, any rays of illumination, in vain to be derived from the home growth of our English Halls and Colleges. Finally, wishing, Learned Sir, that you may see Schiller and swing in a wood (vide Poems) and sit upon a Tun, and eat fat hams of Westphalia,

I remain,
Your friend and docile Pupil to instruct
Charles Lamb.
To S. T. Coleridge. 1798.

[Lamb’s last letter to Coleridge for two years. See note to Letter 34.

Lamb’s reading of Thomas Aquinas probably was at the base of his theses. William Godwin, in his “History of Knowledge, Learning and Taste in Great Britain,” which had run through some years of the New Annual Register, cited, in 1786, a number of the more grotesque queries of the old Schoolmen. Mr. Kegan
Paul suggests that Lamb went to Godwin for his examination paper; out I should think this very unlikely. Some of the questions hit Coleridge very hard.

This letter was first printed by Joseph Cottle in his Early Recollections, 1837, with the remark: “Mr. Coleridge gave me this letter, saying, ‘These young visionaries will do each other no good.’” It marks an epoch in Lamb’s life, since it brought about, or, at any rate, clinched, the only quarrel that ever subsisted between Coleridge and himself.

The story is told in Charles Lamb and the Lloyds. Briefly, Lloyd had left Coleridge in the spring of 1797; a little later, in a state of much perplexity, he had carried his troubles to Lamb, and to Southey, between whom and Coleridge no very cordial feeling had existed for some time, rather than to Coleridge himself, his late mentor. That probably fanned the flame. The next move came from Coleridge. He printed in the Monthly Magazine for November, 1797, three sonnets signed Nehemiah Higginbottom, burlesquing instances of “affectation of unaffectedness,” and “puny pathos” in the poems of himself, of Lamb, and of Lloyd, the humour of which Lamb probably did not much appreciate, since he believed in the feelings expressed in his verse, while Lloyd was certainly unfitted to esteem it. Coleridge effected even more than he had contemplated, for Southey took the sonnet upon Simplicity as an attack upon himself, which did not, however, prevent him, a little later, from a similar exercise in ponderous humour under the too similar name of Abel Shufflebottom.

In March, 1798, when a new edition of Coleridge’s 1797 Poems was in contemplation, Lloyd wrote to Cottle, the publisher, asking that he would persuade Coleridge to omit his (Lloyd’s) portion, a request which Coleridge probably resented, but which gave him the opportunity of replying that no persuasion was needed for the omission of verses published at the earnest request of the author.

Meanwhile a worse offence than all against Coleridge was perpetrated by Lloyd. In the spring of 1798 was published at Bristol his novel, Edmund Oliver, dedicated to Lamb, in which Coleridge’s experiences in the army, under the alias of Silas Tomkyn Comberback, in 1793-1794, and certain of Coleridge’s peculiarities, including his drug habit, were utilised. Added to this, Lloyd seems to have repeated both to Lamb and Southey, in distorted form, certain things which Coleridge had said of them, either in confidence, or, at any rate, with no wish that they should be repeated; with the result that Lamb actually went so far as to take sides with Lloyd against his older friend. The following extracts from a letter from Coleridge to Lamb, which I am permitted by Mr. Ernest Hartley Coleridge to print, carries the story a little farther:—

[Spring of 1798.]

Dear Lamb,—Lloyd has informed me through Miss Wordsworth that you intend no longer to correspond with me. This has given me little pain; not that I do not love and esteem you, but on the contrary because I am confident that your intentions are pure. You are performing what you deem a duty, and humanly speaking have that merit which can be derived from the performance of a painful duty. Painful, for you would not without struggles abandon me in behalf of a man [Lloyd] who, wholly ignorant of all but your name, became attached to you in consequence of my attachment, caught his from my enthusiasm, and learned to love you at my fireside, when often while I have been sitting and talking of your sorrows and afflictions I have stopped my conversations and lifted up wet eyes and prayed for you. No! I am confident that although you do not think as a wise man, you feel as a good man.

From you I have received little pain, because for you I suffer little alarm. I cannot say this for your friend; it appears to me evident that his feelings are vitiated, and that his ideas are in their combination merely the creatures of those feelings. I have received letters from him, and the best and kindest wish which, as a Christian, I can offer in return is that he may feel remorse. . . .

When I wrote to you that my Sonnet to Simplicity was not composed with reference to Southey, you answered me (I believe these were the words): “It was a lie too gross for the grossest ignorance to believe;” and I was not angry with you, because the assertion which the grossest ignorance would believe a lie the Omniscient knew to be truth. This, however, makes me cautious not too hastily to affirm the falsehood of an assertion of Lloyd’s that in Edmund Oliver’s love-fit, leaving college, and going into the army he had no sort of allusion to or recollection of my love-fit, leaving college, and going into the army, and that he never thought of my person in the description of Oliver’s person in the first letter of the second volume. This cannot appear stranger to me than my assertion did to you, and therefore I will suspend my absolute faith.

I have been unfortunate in my connections. Both you and Lloyd became acquainted with me when your minds were far from being in a composed or natural state, and you clothed my image with a suit of notions and feelings which could belong to nothing human. You are restored to comparative saneness, and are merely wondering what is become of the Coleridge with whom you were so passionately in love; Charles Lloyd’s mind has only changed his disease, and he is now arraying his ci-devant Angel in a flaming San Benito—the whole ground of the garment a dark brimstone and plenty of little
devils flourished out in black. Oh, me!
Lamb, “even in laughter the heart is sad!” . . .

God bless you and

S. T. Coleridge.

One other passage. In a letter from Lloyd at Birmingham to Cottle, dated June, 1798, Lloyd says, in response to Cottle’s suggestion that he should visit Coleridge, “I love Coleridge, and can forget all that has happened. At present I could not well go to Stowey. . . . Lamb quitted me yesterday, after a fortnight’s visit. I have been much interested in his society. I never knew him so happy in my life. I shall write to Coleridge to-day.” Coleridge left for Germany in September.

“Schiller and swing in a wood.” An allusion to Coleridge’s sonnet to Schiller:—
Ah! Bard tremendous in sublimity!
Could I behold thee in thy loftier mood
Wand’ring at eve with finely-frenzied eye
Beneath some vast old tempest-swinging wood!

Here should perhaps come Lamb’s first letter to Robert Lloyd, not available for this edition, but printed by Canon Ainger, and in Charles Lamb and the Lloyds, where it is dated October. Lamb’s first letter is one of advice, apparently in reply to some complaints of his position addressed to him by Lloyd. A second and longer letter which, though belonging to August, 1798, may be mentioned here, also counsels, commending the use of patience and humility. Lamb is here seen in the character of a spiritual adviser. The letter is unique in his correspondence.

Robert Lloyd was a younger brother of Charles Lloyd, and Lamb had probably met him when on his visit to Birmingham in the summer. The boy, then not quite twenty, was apprenticed to a Quaker draper at Saffron Walden in Essex.]

Saturday, July 28th, 1798.

I AM ashamed that I have not thanked you before this for the “Joan of Arc,” but I did not know your address, and it did not occur to me to write through Cottle. The poem delighted me, and the notes amused me, but methinks she of Neufchatel, in the print, holds her sword too “like a dancer.” I sent your notice to Phillips, particularly requesting an immediate
insertion, but I suppose it came too late. I am sometimes curious to know what progress you make in that same “Calendar:” whether you insert the nine worthies and Whittington? what you do or how you can manage when two Saints meet and quarrel for precedency? Martlemas, and Candlemas, and Christmas, are glorious themes for a writer like you, antiquity-bitten, smit with the love of boars’ heads and rosemary; but how you can ennoble the 1st of April I know not. By the way I had a thing to say, but a certain false modesty has hitherto prevented me: perhaps I can best communicate my wish by a hint,—my birthday is on the 10th of February, New Style; but if it interferes with any remarkable event, why rather than my country should lose her fame, I care not if I put my nativity back eleven days. Fine family patronage for your “Calendar,” if that old lady of prolific memory were living, who lies (or lyes) in some church in London (saints forgive me, but I have forgot what church), attesting that enormous legend of as many children as days in the year. I marvel her impudence did not grasp at a leap-year. Three hundred and sixty-five dedications, and all in a family—you might spit in spirit on the oneness of
Mæcenas’ patronage!

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to the eternal regret of his native Devonshire, emigrates to Westphalia—“Poor Lamb (these were his last words), if he wants any knowledge, he may apply to me,”—in ordinary cases, I thanked him, I have an “Encyclopædia” at hand, but on such an occasion as going over to a German university, I could not refrain from sending him the following propositions, to be by him defended or oppugned (or both) at Leipsic or Gottingen.

Theses Quædam Theologicæ

“Whether God loves a lying angel better than a true man?”


“Whether the archangel Uriel could knowingly affirm an untruth, and whether, if he could, he would?


“Whether honesty be an angelic virtue, or not rather belonging to that class of qualities which the schoolmen term ‘virtutes minus splendidæ et hominis et terræ nimis participes?’”


“Whether the seraphim ardentes do not manifest their goodness by the way of vision and theory? and whether practice be not a sub-celestial, and merely human virtue?”


“Whether the higher order of seraphim illuminati ever sneer?


“Whether pure intelligences can love, or whether they can love anything besides pure intellect?”


“Whether the beatific vision be anything more or less than a perpetual representment to each individual angel of his own present attainments, and future capabilities, something in the manner of mortal looking-glasses?”


“Whether an ‘immortal and amenable soul’ may not come to be damned at last, and the man never suspect it beforehand?

Samuel Taylor C. hath not deigned an answer; was it impertinent of me to avail myself of that offered source of knowledge? Lloyd is returned to town from Ipswich where he has been with his brother. He has brought home three acts of a Play which I have not yet read. The scene for the most part laid in a Brothel. O tempore, O mores! but as friend Coleridge said when he was talking bawdy to Miss —— “to the pure all things are pure.”

Wishing “Madoc” may be born into the world with as splendid promise as the second birth or purification of the Maid of Neufchatel,—I remain yours sincerely,

C. Lamb.

I hope Edith is better; my kindest remembrances to her. You have a good deal of trifling to forgive in this letter.


[This is Lamb’s first letter to Southey that has been preserved. Probably others came before it. Southey now becomes Lamb’s chief correspondent for some months. In Canon Ainger’s transcript the letter ends with “Love and remembrances to Cottle.”

Southey’s Joan of Arc, second edition, had been published by Cottle in 1798. It has no frontispiece: the print of Joan of Arc must have come separately. Octavius was said (in “Antony and Cleopatra,” III., 11, 85, 36) to have “kept His sword e’en like a dancer.” Lamb was fond of this phrase: he uses it twice in the Elia essays.

Phillips was Sir Richard Phillips (1767-1840), editor of the Monthly Magazine and the publisher satirised in Borrow’s Lavengro.

The Calendar ultimately became the Annual Anthology. Southey had at first an idea of making it a poetical calendar or almanac.

“That old lady of prolific memory.” Lamb is thinking, I imagine, of the story in Howell’s Familiar Letters (also in Evelyn’s Diary)
of the “Wonder of Nature” near the Hague. “That Wonder of Nature is a Church-monument, where an Earl and a Lady are engraven with 365 Children about them, which were all deliver’d at one Birth.” The story tells that a beggar woman with twins asked alms of the Countess, who denying that it was possible for two children to be born at once and vilifying the beggar, that woman cursed her and called upon God to show His judgment upon her by causing her to bear “at one birth as many Children as there are days in the year, which she did before the same year’s end, having never born Child before.” Howell seems to have been convinced of the authenticity of the story by the spectacle of the christening basin used by the family. The beggar, who spoke on the third day of the year, meant as many days as had been in that year—three.
Edith was Southey’s wife.]

Oct. 18th, 1798.

DEAR Southey,—I have at last been so fortunate as to pick up Wither’s Emblems for you, that “old book and quaint,” as the brief author of “Rosamund Gray” hath it; it is in a most detestable state of preservation, and the cuts are of a fainter impression than I have seen. Some child, the curse of antiquaries and bane of bibliopolical rarities, hath been dabbling in some of them with its paint and dirty fingers, and in particular hath a little sullied the author’s own portraiture, which I think valuable, as the poem that accompanies it is no common one; this last excepted, the Emblems are far inferior to old Quarles. I once told you otherwise, but I had not then read old Q. with attention. I have picked up, too, another copy of Quarles for ninepence!!! O tempora! O lectores!—so that if you have lost or parted with your own copy, say so, and I can furnish you, for you prize these things more than I do. You will be amused, I think, with honest Wither’s “Supersedeas to all them whose custom it is, without any deserving, to importune authors to give unto them their books.” I am sorry ’tis imperfect, as the lottery board annexed to it also is. Methinks you might modernise and elegantise this Supersedeas, and place it in front of your “Joan of Arc,” as a gentle hint to Messrs. Park, &c. One of the happiest emblems and comicalest cuts is the owl and little chirpers, page 63.

Wishing you all amusement, which your true emblem-fancier can scarce fail to find in even bad emblems, I remain your caterer to command,

C Lamb.
1798 “ROSAMUND GRAY” 125

Love and respects to Edith. I hope she is well. How does your Calendar prosper?


[This letter contains Lamb’s first reference to Rosamund Gray, his only novel, which had been published a little earlier in the year. “Wither’s Emblems, an ‘old book and quaint,’” was one of the few volumes belonging to old Margaret, Rosamund’s grandmother (Chapter I.). See next letter and note.

Wither’s Emblems was published in 1635; Quarles’ in the same year. Wither’s “Supersedeas” will be found in the Appendix, page 950. I reproduce the owl and little chirpers from the edition of 1635.]

[October 29, 1798.]

DEAR Southey,—I thank you heartily for the Eclogue; it pleases me mightily, being so full of picture-work and circumstances. I find no fault in it, unless perhaps that Joanna’s ruin is a catastrophe too trite: and this is not the first or second time you have clothed your indignation, in verse, in a tale of ruined innocence. The old lady, spinning in the sun, I hope would not disdain to claim some kindred with old Margaret. I could almost wish you to vary some circumstances in the conclusion. A gentleman seducer has so often been described in prose and verse; what if you had accomplished Joanna’s ruin by the clumsy arts and rustic gifts of some countryfellow? I am thinking, I believe, of the song,
“An old woman clothed in grey,
Whose daughter was charming and young,
And she was deluded away
By Roger’s false flattering tongue.”
A Roger-Lothario would be a novel character: I think you might paint him very well. You may think this a very silly suggestion, and so, indeed, it is; but, in good truth, nothing else but the first words of that foolish ballad put me upon scribbling my “
Rosamund.” But I thank you heartily for the poem. Not having anything of my own to send you in return—though, to tell truth, I am at work upon something, which if I were to cut away and garble, perhaps I might send you an extract or two that might not displease you; but I will not do that; and whether it will come to anything, I
know not, for I am as slow as a Fleming painter when I compose anything. I will crave leave to put down a few lines of old
Christopher Marlow’s; I take them from his tragedy, “The Jew of Malta.” The Jew is a famous character, quite out of nature; but, when we consider the terrible idea our simple ancestors had of a Jew, not more to be discommended for a certain discolouring (I think Addison calls it) than the witches and fairies of Marlow’s mighty successor. The scene is betwixt Barabas, the Jew, and Ithamore, a Turkish captive exposed to sale for a slave.

(A precious rascal.)
“As for myself, I walk abroad a-nights,
And kill sick people groaning under walls:
Sometimes I go about, and poison wells;
And now and then, to cherish Christian thieves,
I am content to lose some of my crowns,
That I may, walking in my gallery,
See ’m go pinioned along by my door.
Being young, I studied physic, and began
To practise first upon the Italian:
There I enriched the priests with burials,
And always kept the sexton’s arms in ure
With digging graves and ringing dead men’s knells;
And, after that, was I an engineer,
And in the wars ’twixt France and Germany,
Under pretence of serving [helping] Charles the Fifth,
Slew friend and enemy with my stratagems.
Then after that was I an usurer,
And with extorting, cozening, forfeiting,
And tricks belonging unto brokery,
I fill’d the jails with bankrupts in a year,
And with young orphans planted hospitals,
And every moon made some or other mad;
And now and then one hang’d himself for grief,
Pinning upon his breast a long great scroll,
How I with interest tormented him.”

Now hear Ithamore, the other gentle nature, explain how he spent his time:—

(A comical dog.)
“Faith, master, in setting Christian villages on fire,
Chaining of eunuchs, binding galley-slaves.
One time I was an hostler at [in] an inn,
And in the night-time secretly would I steal
To travellers’ chambers, and there cut their throats.
Once at Jerusalem, where the pilgrims kneel’d,
I strowed powder on the marble stones,
And therewithal their knees would rankle so,
That I have laugh’d a-good to see the cripples
Go limping home to Christendom on stilts.”
“Why, this is something”—

There is a mixture of the ludicrous and the terrible in these lines, brimful of genius and antique invention, that at first reminded me of your old description of cruelty in hell, which was in the true Hogarthian style. I need not tell you that Marlow was author of that pretty madrigal, “Come live with me, and be my Love,” and of the tragedy of “Edward II.,” in which are certain lines unequalled in our English tongue. Honest Walton mentions the said madrigal under the denomination of “certain smooth verses made long since by Kit Marlow.”

I am glad you have put me on the scent after old Quarles. If I do not put up those eclogues, and that shortly, say I am no true-nosed hound. I have had a letter from Lloyd; the young metaphysician of Caius is well, and is busy recanting the new heresy, metaphysics, for the old dogma, Greek. My sister, I thank you, is quite well. She had a slight attack the other day, which frightened me a good deal; but it went off unaccountably. Love and respects to Edith.

Yours sincerely,

C. Lamb.

[The eclogue was “The Ruined Cottage,” in which Joanna and her widowed mother are at first as happy as Rosamund Gray and old blind Margaret. As in Lamb’s story so in Southey’s poem, this state of felicity is overturned by a seducer.

“An old woman clothed in gray.” This ballad still eludes research. Lamb says that the first line put him upon writing Rosamund Gray, but he is generally supposed to have taken his heroine’s name from a song by Charles Lloyd, entitled “Rosamund Gray,” published among his Poems in 1795. At the end of the novel Matravis, the seducer, in his ravings, sings the ballad.

The “something” upon which Lamb was then at work was his play “John Woodvil,” in those early days known as “Pride’s Cure.”

The passage from Marlowe’sThe Rich Jew of Malta” is in Act II. Lamb included other passages in his Dramatic Specimens, 1808, and also passages from “Edward II.Walton quotes the madrigal in The Complete Angler.

“Your old description of cruelty in hell.” In “Joan of Arc.” See Letter 3, page 14.

“If I do not put up those eclogues.” Lamb does not return to this subject.

Lloyd had just gone to Cambridge, to Caius College.]

Nov. 3, 1798.

I HAVE read your Eclogue [“The Wedding”] repeatedly, and cannot call it bald, or without interest; the cast of it, and the design are completely original, and may set people upon thinking: it is as poetical as the subject requires, which asks no poetry; but it is defective in pathos. The woman’s own story is the tamest part of it—I should like you to remould that—it too much resembles the young maid’s history: both had been in service. Even the omission would not injure the poem; after the words “growing wants,” you might, not unconnectedly, introduce “look at that little chub” down to “welcome one.” And, decidedly, I would have you end it somehow thus,
“Give them at least this evening a good meal.
[Gives her money.
Now, fare thee well; hereafter you have taught me
To give sad meaning to the village-bells,” &c.,
which would leave a stronger impression (as well as more pleasingly recall the beginning of the Eclogue), than the present common-place reference to a better world, which the woman “must have heard at church.” I should like you, too, a good deal to enlarge the most striking part, as it might have been, of the poem—“Is it idleness?” &c., that affords a good field for dwelling on sickness and inabilities, and old age. And you might also a good deal enrich the piece with a picture of a country wedding: the woman might very well, in a transient fit of oblivion, dwell upon the ceremony and circumstances of her own nuptials six years ago, the smugness of the bridegroom, the feastings, the cheap merriment, the welcomings, and the secret envyings of the maidens—then dropping all this, recur to her present lot. I do not know that I can suggest anything else, or that I have suggested anything new or material.

I shall be very glad to see some more poetry, though I fear your trouble in transcribing will be greater than the service my remarks may do them.

Yours affectionately,

C. Lamb.

I cut my letter short because I am called off to business.

Nov. 8th, 1798.

I DO not know that I much prefer this Eclogue [Lamb has received ‘The Last of the Flock’] to the last [‘The Wedding’]; both are inferior to the former [‘The Ruined Cottage’].
“And when he came to shake me by the hand,
And spake as kindly to me as he used,
I hardly knew his voice—”
is the only passage that affected me.

Servants speak, and their language ought to be plain, and not much raised above the common, else I should find fault with the bathos of this passage:
“And when I heard the bell strike out,
I thought (what?) that I had never heard it toll
So dismally before.”

I like the destruction of the martens’ old nests hugely, having just such a circumstance in my memory.1 I should be very glad to see your remaining Eclogue, if not too much trouble, as you give me reason to expect it will be the second best.

I perfectly accord with your opinion of old Wither. Quarles is a wittier writer, but Wither lays more hold of the heart. Quarles thinks of his audience when he lectures; Wither soliloquises in company with a full heart. What wretched stuff are the “Divine Fancies” of Quarles! Religion appears to him no longer valuable than it furnishes matter for quibbles and riddles; he turns God’s grace into wantonness. Wither is like an old friend, whose warm-heartedness and estimable qualities make us wish he possessed more genius, but at the same time make us willing to dispense with that want. I always love W., and sometimes admire Q. Still that

1 [The destruction of the martens’ nests, in “The Last of the Family,” runs thus:—
I remember,
Eight months ago, when the young Squire began
To alter the old mansion, they destroy’d
The martins’ nests, that had stood undisturb’d
Under that roof, . . . ay! long before my memory,
I shook my head at seeing it, and thought
No good could follow.]

portrait poem is a fine one; and the extract from “The Shepherds’ Hunting” places him in a starry height far above Quarles. If you wrote that review in “Crit. Rev.,” I am sorry you are so sparing of praise to the “Ancient Marinere;”—so far from calling it, as you do, with some wit, but more severity, “A Dutch Attempt,” &c., I call it a right English attempt, and a successful one, to dethrone German sublimity. You have selected a passage fertile in unmeaning miracles, but have passed by fifty passages as miraculous as the miracles they celebrate. I never so deeply felt the pathetic as in that part,
“A spring of love gush’d from my heart,
And I bless’d them unaware—”
It stung me into high pleasure through sufferings.
Lloyd does not like it; his head is too metaphysical, and your taste too correct; at least I must allege something against you both, to excuse my own dotage—
“So lonely ’twas, that God himself
Scarce seemed there to be!”—&c., &c.
But you allow some elaborate beauties—you should have extracted ’em. “The Ancient Marinere” plays more tricks with the mind than that
last poem, which is yet one of the finest written. But I am getting too dogmatical; and before I degenerate into abuse, I will conclude with assuring you that I am

Sincerely yours,
C. Lamb.

I am going to meet Lloyd at Ware on Saturday, to return on Sunday. Have you any commands or commendations to the metaphysician? I shall be very happy if you will dine or spend any time with me in your way through the great ugly city; but I know you have other ties upon you in these parts.

Love and respects to Edith, and friendly remembrances to Cottle.


[Lamb’s ripe judgment of Wither will be found in his essay “On the Poetical Works of George Wither,” in the Works, 1818 (see Vol. I. of this edition, page 181). “The portrait poem” would be “The Author’s Meditation upon Sight of His Picture,” prefixed to Emblems, 1635.

Lyrical Ballads, by Wordsworth and Coleridge, had just been published by Cottle. “The Ancient Mariner” stood first. “That
last poem” was Wordsworth’s “
Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey.” Southey(?) reviewed the book in the Critical Review for October, 1798. Of the “Ancient Mariner” he said: “It is a Dutch attempt at German sublimity. Genius has here been employed in producing a poem of little merit.”

Here should come a letter from Lamb to Robert Lloyd, dated November 13, 1798, not available for this edition. Robert Lloyd seems to have said in his last letter that the world was drained of all its sweets. Lamb sends him a beautiful passage in praise of the world’s good things—the first foretaste in the correspondence of his later ecstatic manner.

Here also should come a letter from Lamb to Southey, which apparently does not now exist, containing “The Dying Lover,” an extract from Lamb’s play. I have taken the text from the version of the play sent to Manning late in 1800 (see page 205). Lamb did not include “The Dying Lover” in John Woodvil when he printed it in 1802; but he sent it, slightly altered, to Dr. Anderson’s magazine (see page 187) for November, 1800, and to the London Magazine for January, 1822.

Margaret. . . . I knew a youth who died
For grief, because his Love proved so,
And married to another.
I saw him on the wedding day,
For he was present in the church that day,
And in his best apparel too,
As one that came to grace the ceremony.
I mark’d him when the ring was given,
His countenance never changed;
And when the priest pronounced the marriage blessing,
He put a silent prayer up for the bride,
For they stood near who saw his lips move.
He came invited to the marriage-feast
With the bride’s friends,
And was the merriest of them all that day;
But they, who knew him best, call’d it feign’d mirth;
And others said,
He wore a smile like death’s upon his face.
His presence dash’d all the beholders’ mirth,
And he went away in tears.
Simon. What followed then?
Marg. Oh! then
He did not as neglected suitors use
Affect a life of solitude in shades,
But lived,
In free discourse and sweet society,
Among his friends who knew his gentle nature best.
Yet ever when he smiled,
There was a mystery legible in his face,
That whoso saw him said he was a man
Not long for this world.—
And true it was, for even then
The silent love was feeding at his heart
Of which he died:
Nor ever spake word of reproach,
Only he wish’d in death that his remains
Might find a poor grave in some spot, not far
From his mistress’ family vault, “being the place
Where one day Anna should herself be laid.”

The line in italics Lamb crossed through in the Manning copy. The last four lines he crossed through and marked “very bad.” I have reproduced them here because of the autobiographical hint contained in the word Anna, which was the name given by Lamb to his “fair-haired maid” in his love sonnets.]

[Probably November, 1798.]

THE following is a second Extract from my Tragedy that is to be,—’tis narrated by an old Steward to Margaret, orphan ward of Sir Walter Woodvil;—this, and the Dying Lover I gave you, are the only extracts I can give without mutilation. I expect you to like the old woman’s curse:

Old Steward.—One summer night, Sir Walter, as it chanc’d,
Was pacing to & fro in the avenue
That westward fronts our house,
Among those aged oaks, said to have been planted
Three hundred years ago
By a neighb’ring Prior of the Woodvil name,
But so it was,
Being overtask’t in thought, he heeded not
The importune suitor who stood by the gate,
And beg’d an alms.
Some say he shov’d her rudely from the gate
With angry chiding; but I can never think
(Sir Walter’s nature hath a sweetness in it)
That he would use a woman—an old woman—
With such discourtesy;
For old she was who beg’d an alms of him.
Well, he refus’d her;
Whether for importunity, I know not,
Or that she came between his meditations.
But better had he met a lion in the streets
Than this old woman that night;
For she was one who practis’d the black arts,
And served the devil—being since burn’d for witchcraft.
She look’d at him like one that meant to blast him,
And with a frightful noise
(’Twas partly like a woman’s voice,
And partly like the hissing of a snake)
She nothing said but this (Sir Walter told the words):
1798 “THE WITCH” 133
“A mischief, mischief, mischief,
And a nine-times killing curse,
By day and by night, to the caitive wight
Who shakes the poor like snakes from his door,
And shuts up the womb of his purse;
And a mischief, mischief, mischief,
And a nine-fold withering curse,—
For that shall come to thee, that will render thee
Both all that thou fear’st, and worse.”
These words four times repeated, she departed,
Leaving Sir Walter like a man beneath
Whose feet a scaffolding had suddenly fal’n:
So he describ’d it.
Margaret.—A terrible curse!
Old Steward.—O Lady, such bad things are told of that old woman,
As, namely, that the milk she gave was sour,
And the babe who suck’d her shrivel’d like a mandrake;
And things besides, with a bigger horror in them,
Almost, I think, unlawful to be told!
Margaret.—Then must I never hear them. But proceed,
And say what follow’d on the witch’s curse.
Old Steward.—Nothing immediate; but some nine months after,
Young Stephen Woodvil suddenly fell sick,
And none could tell what ail’d him: for he lay,
And pin’d, and pin’d, that all his hair came off;
And he, that was full-flesh’d, became as thin
As a two-months’ babe that hath been starved in the nursing;—
And sure, I think,
He bore his illness like a little child,
With such rare sweetness of dumb melancholy
He strove to clothe his agony in smiles,
Which he would force up in his poor, pale cheeks,
Like ill-tim’d guests that had no proper business there;—
And when they ask’d him his complaint, he laid
His hand upon his heart to show the place
Where Satan came to him a nights, he said,
And prick’d him with a pin.—
And hereupon Sir Walter call’d to mind
The Beggar Witch that stood in the gateway,
And begg’d an alms—
Margaret.—I do not love to credit Tales of magic.
Heav’n’s music, which is order, seems unstrung;
And this brave world,
Creation’s beauteous work, unbeautified,
Uisorder’d, marr’d, where such strange things are acted.

This is the extract I brag’d of, as superior to that I sent you from Marlow. Perhaps you smile; but I should like your remarks on the above, as you are deeper witch-read than I.


[The passage quoted in this letter, with certain alterations, became afterwards “The Witch,” a dramatic sketch independent of “John Woodvil.” By the phrase “without mutilation,” Lamb possibly means to suggest that Southey should print this sketch and
The Dying Lover” in the Annual Anthology. That was not, however, done. “The Witch” was first printed in the Works, 1818.

Here should come a letter from Lamb to Robert Lloyd, postmarked November 20, 1798, not available for this edition. In this letter Lamb sends Lloyd the extract from “The Witch” that was sent to Southey.]

Nov. 28th, 1798.

I CAN have no objection to your printing “Mystery of God” with my name and all due acknowledgments for the honour and favour of the communication; indeed, ’tis a poem that can dishonour no name. Now, that is in the true strain of modern modesto-vanitas. . . . But for the sonnet, I heartily wish it, as I thought it was, dead and forgotten. If the exact circumstances under which I wrote could be known or told, it would be an interesting sonnet; but to an indifferent and stranger reader it must appear a very bald thing, certainly inadmissible in a compilation. I wish you could affix a different name to the volume; there is a contemptible book, a wretched assortment of vapid feelings, entitled “Pratt’s Gleanings,” which hath damned and impropriated the title for ever. Pray think of some other. The gentleman is better known (better had he remained unknown) by an Ode to Benevolence, written and spoken for and at the annual dinner of the Humane Society, who walk in procession once a-year, with all the objects of their charity before them, to return God thanks for giving them such benevolent hearts.

I like “Bishop Bruno;” but not so abundantly as your “Witch Ballad,” which is an exquisite thing of its kind.

I showed my “Witch” and “Dying Lover” to Dyer last night; but George could not comprehend how that could be poetry which did not go upon ten feet, as George and his predecessors had taught it to do; so George read me some lectures on the distinguishing qualities of the Ode, the Epigram, and the Epic, and went home to illustrate his doctrine by correcting a proof sheet of his own Lyrics. George writes odes where the rhymes, like fashionable man and wife, keep a comfortable distance of six or eight lines apart, and calls that “observing the laws of verse.” George tells you, before he recites, that you must listen with great attention,
or you’ll miss the rhymes. I did so, and found them pretty exact. George, speaking of the dead
Ossian, exclaimeth, “Dark are the poet’s eyes.” I humbly represented to him that his own eyes were dark [?light], and many a living bard’s besides, and recommended “Clos’d are the poet’s eyes.” But that would not do. I found there was an antithesis between the darkness of his eyes and the splendour of his genius; and I acquiesced.

Your recipe for a Turk’s poison is invaluable and truly Marlowish. . . . Lloyd objects to “shutting up the womb of his purse” in my Curse (which for a Christian witch in a Christian country is not too mild, I hope); do you object? I think there is a strangeness in the idea, as well as “shaking the poor like snakes from his door,” which suits the speaker. Witches illustrate, as fine ladies do, from their own familiar objects, and snakes and the shutting up of wombs are in their way. I don’t know that this last charge has been before brought against ’em, nor either the sour milk or the mandrake babe; but I affirm these be things a witch would do if she could.

My Tragedy will be a medley (as [? and] I intend it to be a medley) of laughter and tears, prose and verse, and in some places rhyme, songs, wit, pathos, humour, and, if possible, sublimity; at least, it is not a fault in my intention, if it does not comprehend most of these discordant colours. Heaven send they dance not the “Dance of Death!” I hear that the Two Noble Englishmen have parted no sooner than they set foot on German earth, but I have not heard the reason—possibly, to give novelists an handle to exclaim, “Ah me! what things are perfect?” I think I shall adopt your emendation in the “Dying Lover,” though I do not myself feel the objection against “Silent Prayer.”

My tailor has brought me home a new coat lapelled, with a velvet collar. He assures me everybody wears velvet collars now. Some are born fashionable, some achieve fashion, and others, like your humble servant, have fashion thrust upon them. The rogue has been making inroads hitherto by modest degrees, foisting upon me an additional button, recommending gaiters; but to come upon me thus in a full tide of luxury, neither becomes him as a tailor nor the ninth of a man. My meek gentleman was robbed the other day, coming with his wife and family in a one-horse shay from Hampstead; the villains rifled him of four guineas, some shillings and half-pence, and a bundle of customers’ measures, which they swore were bank-notes. They did not shoot him, and when they rode off he addrest them with profound gratitude, making a congee: “Gentlemen, I wish you good night, and we are very much obliged to you that you have not used us ill!” And this is the cuckoo that has had the audacity to foist upon me ten
buttons on a side and a black velvet collar—A damn’d ninth of a scoundrel!

When you write to Lloyd, he wishes his Jacobin correspondents to address him as Mr. C. L. Love and respects to Edith. I hope she is well.

Yours sincerely,
C. Lamb.

[The poem “Mystery of God” was, when printed in the Annual Anthology for 1799, entitled “Living without God in the World.” Lamb never reprinted it. It is not clear to what sonnet Lamb refers, possibly that to his sister, printed on page 78, which he himself never reprinted. It was at that time intended to call Southey’s collection Gleanings; Lamb refers to the Gleanings of Samuel Jackson Pratt (1749-1814), a very busy maker of books, published in 1795-1799. His Triumph of Benevolence was published in 1786.

Southey’s witch ballad was “The Old Woman of Berkeley.”

George Dyer’s principal works in verse are contained in his Poems, 1802, and Poetics, 1812. He retained the epithet “dark” for Ossian’s eyes.

Southey’s recipe for a Turk’s poison I do not find. It may have existed only in a letter.

A reference to the poem on page 132 will explain the remarks about witches’ curses.

The Two Noble Englishmen (a sarcastic reference drawn, I imagine, from Palamon and Arcite) were Coleridge and Wordsworth, then in Germany. Nothing definite is known, but they seem quite amicably to have decided to take independent courses.

“Some are born fashionable.” After Malvolio (“Twelfth Night,” II., 5, 157, etc.).

Lloyd’s Jacobin correspondents.” This is Lamb’s only allusion to the attack which had been made by The Anti-Jacobin upon himself, Lloyd and their friends, particularly Coleridge and Southey. In “The New Morality,” in the last number of Canning’s paper, they had been thus grouped:—
And ye five other wandering Bards that move
In sweet accord of harmony and love,
C—dge and S—th—y, L—d, and L—be & Co.
Tune all your mystic harps to praise Lepaux!
Lepaux being the high-priest of Theophilanthropy. When “The New Morality” was reprinted in The Beauties ofThe Anti-Jacobin in 1799, a savage footnote on Coleridge was appended, accusing him of hypocrisy and the desertion of his wife and
children, and adding “Ex uno disce his associates Southey and Lamb.” Again, in the first number of the
Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine, August, 1798, was a picture by Gilray, representing the worshippers of Lepaux, wherein Lloyd and Lamb appeared as a toad and a frog reading their own Blank Verse, and Coleridge and Southey, as donkeys, flourish “Dactylics” and “Saphics.” In September the federated poets were again touched upon in a parody of the “Ode to the Passions”:—
See! faithful to their mighty dam,
In splay-foot madrigals of love,
Soft moaning like the widow’d dove,
Pour, side-by-side, their sympathetic notes;
Of equal rights, and civic feasts,
And tyrant kings, and knavish priests,
Swift through the land the tuneful mischief floats.
And now to softer strains they struck the lyre,
They sung the beetle or the mole,
The dying kid, or ass’s foal,
By cruel man permitted to expire.

Lloyd took the caricature and the verses with his customary seriousness, going so far as to indite a “Letter to The Anti-Jacobin Reviewers,” which was printed in Birmingham in 1799. Therein he defended Lamb with some vigour: “The person you have thus leagued in a partnership of infamy with me is Mr. Charles Lamb, a man who, so far from being a democrat, would be the first person to assent to the opinions contained in the foregoing pages: he is a man too much occupied with real and painful duties—duties of high personal self-denial—to trouble himself about speculative matters.”]

Dec. 27, 1798.

DEAR Southey,—Your friend John May has formerly made kind offers to Lloyd of serving me in the India house by the interest of his friend Sir Francis Baring—It is not likely that I shall ever put his goodness to the test on my own account, for my prospects are very comfortable. But I know a man, a young man, whom he could serve thro’ the same channel, and I think would be disposed to serve if he were acquainted with his case. This poor fellow (whom I know just enough of to vouch for his strict integrity & worth) has lost two or three employments from illness, which
he cannot regain; he was once insane, & from the distressful uncertainty of his livelihood has reason to apprehend a return of that malady—He has been for some time dependant on a woman whose lodger he formerly was, but who can ill afford to maintain him, and I know that on Christmas night last he actually walk’d about the streets all night, rather than accept of her Bed, which she offer’d him, and offer’d herself to sleep in the kitchen, and that in consequence of that severe cold he is labouring under a bilious disorder, besides a depression of spirits, which incapacitates him from exertion when he most needs it—For God’s sake,
Southey, if it does not go against you to ask favors, do it now—ask it as for me—but do not do a violence to your feelings, because he does not know of this application, and will suffer no disappointment—What I meant to say was this—there are in the India house what are called Extra Clerks, not on the Establishment, like me, but employed in Extra business, by-jobs—these get about £50 a year, or rather more, but never rise—a Director can put in at any time a young man in this office, and it is by no means consider’d so great a favor as making an establish’d Clerk. He would think himself as rich as an Emperor if he could get such a certain situation, and be relieved from those disquietudes which I do fear may one day bring back his distemper—

You know John May better than I do, but I know enough to believe that he is a good man—he did make me that offer I have mention’d, but you will perceive that such an offer cannot authorize me in applying for another Person.

But I cannot help writing to you on the subject, for the young man is perpetually before my eyes, and I should feel it a crime not to strain all my petty interest to do him service, tho’ I put my own delicacy to the question by so doing—I have made one other unsuccessful attempt already—

At all events I will thank you to write, for I am tormented with anxiety—

I suppose you have somewhere heard that poor Mary Dollin has poisoned herself, after some interviews with John Reid, the ci-devant Alphonso of her days of hope.

How is Edith?

C. Lamb.

[John May was a friend and correspondent of Southey whom he had met at Lisbon: not to be confounded with Coleridge’s inn-keeping May.

Sir Francis Baring was a director of the East India Company. I have no knowledge as to who the young man was; nor have I any regarding Mary Dollin and John Reid.]