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Works of Charles and Mary Lamb. VI-VII. Letters
Charles Lamb to Robert Southey, 15 March 1799

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
March 15th, 1799.

DEAR Southey,—I have received your little volume, for which I thank you, though I do not entirely approve of this sort of intercourse, where the presents are all one side. I have read the last Eclogue again with great pleasure. It hath gained considerably by abridgment, and now I think it wants nothing but enlargement. You will call this one of tyrant Procrustes’ criticisms, to cut and pull so to his own standard; but the old lady is so great a favourite with me, I want to hear more of her; and of “Joanna” you have given us still less. But the picture of the rustics leaning over the bridge, and the old lady travelling abroad on a summer evening to see her garden watered, are images so new and true, that I decidedly prefer this “Ruin’d Cottage” to any poem in the book. Indeed I think it the only one that will bear comparison with your “Hymn to the Penates” in a former volume.

I compare dissimilar things, as one would a rose and a star for the pleasure they give us, or as a child soon learns to choose between a cake and a rattle; for dissimilars have mostly some points of comparison. The next best poem, I think, is the First Eclogue; ’tis very complete, and abounding in little pictures and realities. The remainder Eclogues, excepting only the “Funeral,” I do not greatly admire. I miss one, which had at least as good a title to
publication as the “
Witch,” or the “Sailor’s Mother.” You call’d it the “Last of the Family.” The “Old Woman of Berkeley” comes next; in some humours I would give it the preference above any. But who the devil is Matthew of Westminster? You are as familiar with these antiquated monastics, as Swedenborg, or, as his followers affect to call him, the Baron, with his invisibles. But you have raised a very comic effect out of the true narrative of Matthew of Westminster. ’Tis surprising with how little addition you have been able to convert with so little alteration his incidents, meant for terror, into circumstances and food for the spleen. The Parody is not so successful; it has one famous line indeed, which conveys the finest death-bed image I ever met with:
“The doctor whisper’d the nurse, and the surgeon knew what he said.”
But the offering the bride three times bears not the slightest analogy or proportion to the fiendish noises three times heard! In “
Jaspar,” the circumstance of the great light is very affecting. But I had heard you mention it before. The “Rose” is the only insipid piece in the volume; it hath neither thorns nor sweetness, and, besides, sets all chronology and probability at defiance.

Cousin Margaret,” you know, I like. The allusions to the “Pilgrim’s Progress” are particularly happy, and harmonise tacitly and delicately with old cousins and aunts. To familiar faces we do associate familiar scenes and accustomed objects; but what hath Apollidon and his sea-nymphs to do in these affairs? Apollyon I could have borne, though he stands for the devil; but who is Apollidon? I think you are too apt to conclude faintly, with some cold moral, as in the end of the poem called “The Victory”—
“Be thou her comforter, who art the widow’s friend;”
a single common-place line of comfort, which bears no proportion in weight or number to the many lines which describe suffering. This is to convert religion into mediocre feelings, which should burn, and glow, and tremble. A moral should be wrought into the body and soul, the matter and tendency, of a poem, not tagged to the end, like a “God send the good ship into harbour,” at the conclusion of our bills of lading. The finishing of the “
Sailor” is also imperfect. Any dissenting minister may say and do as much.

These remarks, I know, are crude and unwrought; but I do not lay claim to much accurate thinking. I never judge system-wise of things, but fasten upon particulars. After all, there is a great deal in the book that I must, for time, leave unmentioned, to deserve my thanks for its own sake, as well as for the friendly
remembrances implied in the gift. I again return you my thanks.

Pray present my love to Edith.

C. L.