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Works of Charles and Mary Lamb. VI-VII. Letters
Charles Lamb to William and Dorothy Wordsworth, 28 September 1805

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
[p.m. September 28, 1805.]

MY dear Wordsworth (or Dorothy rather, for to you appertains the biggest part of this answer by right.)—I will not again deserve reproach by so long a silence. I have kept deluding myself with the idea that Mary would write to you, but she is so lazy, or, I believe the true state of the case, so diffident, that it must revert to me as usual. Though she writes a pretty good style, and has some notion of the force of words, she is not always so certain of the true orthography of them, and that and a poor handwriting (in this age of female calligraphy) often deter her where no other reason does. We have neither of us been very well for some weeks past. I am very nervous, and she most so at those times when I am: so that a merry friend, adverting to the noble consolation we were able to afford each other, denominated us not unaptly Gum Boil and Tooth Ache: for they use to say that a Gum Boil is a great relief to a Tooth Ache. We have been two tiny excursions this summer, for three or four days each: to a place near Harrow, and to Egham, where Cooper’s Hill is: and that is the total history of our Rustications this year. Alas! how poor a sound to Skiddaw, and Helvellyn, and Borrodaile, and the magnificent sesquipedalia of the year 1802. Poor old Molly! to have lost her pride, that “last infirmity of Noble Mind,” and her Cow—Providence need not have set her wits to such an old Molly. I am heartily sorry for her. Remember us lovingly to her. And in particular remember us to Mrs. Clarkson in the most kind manner. I hope by southwards you mean that she will be at or near London, for she is a great favorite of both of us, and we feel for her health as much as is possible for any one to do. She is one of the friendliest, comfortablest women we know, and made our little stay at your cottage one of the pleasantest times we ever past. We were quite
strangers to her.
Mr. C. is with you too?—our kindest separate remembrances to him.

As to our special affairs, I am looking about me. I have done nothing since the beginning of last year, when I lost my newspaper job, and having had a long idleness, I must do something, or we shall get very poor. Sometimes I think of a farce—but hitherto all schemes have gone off,—an idle brag or two of an evening vaporing out of a pipe, and going off in the morning; but now I have bid farewell to my “Sweet Enemy” Tobacco, as you will see in my next page, I perhaps shall set soberly to work. Hang Work! I wish that all the year were holyday. I am sure that Indolence indefeazible Indolence is the true state of man, and business the invention of the Old Teazer who persuaded Adam’s Master to give him an apron and set him a houghing. Pen and Ink, and Clerks, and desks, were the refinements of this old torturer a thousand years after, under pretence of Commerce allying distant shores, promoting and diffusing knowledge, good &c.—

May the Babylonish curse
Strait confound my stammering verse,
If I can a passage see
In this word-perplexity,
Or a fit expression find,
Or a language to my mind,
(Still the phrase is wide an acre)
To take leave of thee, Tobacco;
Or in any terms relate
Half my Love, or half my Hate,
For I hate yet love thee so,
That, whichever Thing I shew,
The plain truth will seem to be
A constrain’d hyperbole,
And the passion to proceed
More from a Mistress than a Weed.
Sooty retainer to the vine,
Bacchus’ black servant, negro fine,
Sorcerer that mak’st us doat upon
Thy begrim’d complexion,
And, for thy pernicious sake
More and greater oaths to break
Than reclaimed Lovers take
’Gainst women: Thou thy siege dost lay
Much too in the female way,
While thou suck’st the labouring breath
Faster than kisses; or than Death.
Thou in such a cloud dost bind us,
That our worst foes cannot find us,
And Ill Fortune (that would thwart us)
Shoots at rovers, shooting at us;
While each man thro’ thy heightening steam,
Does like a smoking Etna seem,
And all about us does express
(Fancy and Wit in richest dress)
A Sicilian Fruitfulness.
Thou through such a mist dost shew us,
That our best friends do not know us;
And, for those allowed features,
Due to reasonable creatures,
Liken’st us to fell Chimeras,
Monsters, that, who see us, fear us,
Worse than Cerberus, or Geryon,
Or, who first loved a cloud, Ixion.
Bacchus we know, and we allow
His tipsy rites. But what art thou?
That but by reflex canst shew
What his deity can do,
As the false Egyptian spell
Aped the true Hebrew miracle—
Some few vapours thou may’st raise,
The weak brain may serve to amaze,
But to the reins and nobler heart
Canst nor life nor heat impart.
Brother of Bacchus, later born,
The old world was sure forlorn,
Wanting thee; that aidest more
The God’s victories than before
All his panthers, and the brawls
Of his piping Bacchanals;
These, as stale, we disallow,
Or judge of thee meant: only thou
His true Indian Conquest art;
And, for Ivy round his dart,
The reformed God now weaves
A finer Thyrsus of thy leaves.
Scent to match thy rich perfume
Chymic art did ne’er presume
Through her quaint alembic strain;
None so sovran to the brain.
Nature, that did in thee excell,
Framed again no second smell.
Roses, violets, but toys
For the smaller sort of boys,
Or for greener damsels meant;
Thou’rt the only manly scent.
Stinking’st of the stinking kind,
Filth of the mouth and fog of the mind,
Africa that brags her foyson,
Breeds no such prodigious poison,
Henbane, nightshade, both together,
Hemlock, aconite——
Nay rather,
Plant divine, of rarest virtue,
Blisters on the tongue would hurt you;
’Twas but in a sort I blamed thee,
None e’er prosper’d who defamed thee:
Irony all, and feign’d abuse,
Such as perplext Lovers use
At a need, when in despair
To paint forth their fairest fair,
Or in part but to express
That exceeding comeliness
Which their fancies does so strike,
They borrow language of Dislike,
And instead of Dearest Miss,
Honey, Jewel, Sweetheart, Bliss,
And, those forms of old admiring,
Call her Cockatrice and Syren,
Basilisk and all that’s evil,
Witch, Hyena, Mermaid, Devil,
Ethiop wench, and Blackamoor,
Monkey, Ape, and twenty more,
Friendly Traitress, Loving Foe:
Not that she is truly so,
But no other way they know
A contentment to express,
Borders so upon excess,
That they do not rightly wot,
Whether it be pain or not.
Or, as men, constrain’d to part
With what’s nearest to their heart,
While their sorrow’s at the height,
Lose discrimination quite,
And their hasty wrath let fall,
To appease their frantic gall,
On the darling thing whatever,
Whence they feel it death to sever,
Though it be, as they, perforce,
Guiltless of the sad divorce.
For I must (nor let it grieve thee,
Friendliest of plants, that I must) leave thee—
For thy sake, Tobacco, I
Would do anything but die;
And but seek to extend my days
Long enough to sing thy praise.
But, as She, who once has been
A King’s consort, is a Queen
Ever after; nor will bate
Any tittle of her state,
Though a widow, or divorced,
So I, from thy converse forced,
The old name and style retain,
(A right Katherine of Spain;)
And a seat too ’mongst the joys
Of the blest Tobacco Boys:
Where, though I by sour physician
Am debarr’d the full fruition
Of thy favours, I may catch
Some collateral sweets, and snatch
Sidelong odours, that give life
Like glances from a neighbour’s wife;
And still dwell in the by-places,
And the suburbs of thy graces,
And in thy borders take delight,
An unconquer’d Canaanite.

I wish you may think this a handsome farewell to my “Friendly Traitress.” Tobacco has been my evening comfort and my morning curse for these five years: and you know how difficult it is from refraining to pick one’s lips even, when it has become a habit This Poem is the only one which I have finished since so long as when I wrote “Hester Savory.” I have had it in my head to do it these two years, but Tobacco stood in its own light when it gave me head aches that prevented my singing its praises. Now you have got it, you have got all my store, for I have absolutely not another line. No more has Mary. We have nobody about us that cares for Poetry, and who will rear grapes when he shall be the sole eater? Perhaps if you encourage us to shew you what we may write, we may do something now and then before we absolutely forget the quantity of an English line for want of practice. The “Tobacco,” being a little in the way of Withers (whom Southey so much likes) perhaps you will somehow convey it to him with my kind remembrances. Then, everybody will have seen it that I wish to see it: I have sent it to Malta.

I remain Dear W. and D— yours truly,

C. Lamb.
28th Sep., 1805.