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Works of Charles and Mary Lamb. VI-VII. Letters
Letters: 1807

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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[Dated at end: January 29, 1807.]

DEAR Wordsworth—We have book’d off from Swan and Two Necks, Lad Lane, this day (per Coach) the Tales from Shakespear. You will forgive the plates, when I tell you they were left to the direction of Godwin, who left the choice of subjects to the bad baby, who from mischief (I suppose) has chosen one from damn’d beastly vulgarity (vide Merch. Venice) where no atom of authority was in the tale to justify it—to another has given a name which exists not in the tale, Nic Bottom, and which she thought would be funny, though in this I suspect his hand, for I guess her reading does not reach far enough to know Bottom’s Xtian name—and one of Hamlet, and Grave digging, a scene which is not hinted at in the story, and you might as well have put King Canute the Great reproving his courtiers—the rest are Giants and Giantesses. Suffice it, to save our taste and damn our folly, that we left it all to a friend W. G.—who in the first place cheated me into putting a name to them, which I did not mean, but do not repent, and then wrote a puff about their simplicity, &c., to go with the advertisement as in my name! Enough of this egregious dupery.—I will try to abstract the load of teazing circumstances from the Stories and tell you that I am answerable for Lear, Macbeth, Timon, Romeo, Hamlet, Othello, for occasionally a tail piece or correction of grammar, for none of the cuts and all of the spelling. The rest is my Sister’s.—We think Pericles of hers the best, and Othello of mine—but I hope all have some good. As You Like It we like least.

So much, only begging you to tear out the cuts and give them to Johnny, as “Mrs. Godwin’s fancy.”

C. L.
Thursday, 29 Jan., 1807.

Our Love to all.


I had almost forgot,

My part of the Preface begins in the middle of a sentence, in last but one page after a colon thus
:—which if they be happily so done &c.
the former part hath a more feminine turn and does hold me up something as an instructor to young Ladies: but upon my modesty’s honour I wrote it not.

Godwin told My Sister that the Baby chose the Subjects. A fact in Taste.


[Lamb has run his pen lightly through “God bless me,” at the beginning of the postscript.

The plates to the Tales from Shakespear will be found reproduced in facsimile in Vol. III. of the present edition. They were designed probably by Mulready.

An interval of nine months occurs before we come to another letter of the date of which we can be certain. Of what happened in this time we know little or nothing, but I think it probable that the following hitherto unpublished letter from Charles Lamb to the Clarksons explains part of the long silence. The postmark gives no year, but it must be either 1807 or 1808, and since the Dramatic Specimens herein referred to as in preparation were published in 1808, we may confidently assume it to be 1807. The letter tells its own story only too clearly: the Lambs had been on a visit to the Clarksons at Bury St. Edmunds; Mary Lamb had again fallen ill while there; and her brother had just left her once more at her Hoxton Asylum:—]

[p.m. June (1807).]

DEAR Mr. & Mrs. Clarkson, you will wish to know how we performed our journey. My sister was tolerably quiet until we got to Chelmsford, where she began to be very bad indeed, as your friends William Knight and his family can tell you when you see them. What I should have done without their kindness I don’t know, but among other acts of great attention, they provided me with a waistcoat to confine her arms, by the help of which we went through the rest of our journey. But sadly tired and miserably
depressed she was before we arrived at Hoxton. We got there about half past eight; and now ’tis all over, I have great satisfaction that she is among people who have been used to her. In all probability a few months or even weeks will restore her (her last illness confined her ten weeks) but if she does recover I shall be very careful how I take her so far from home again. I am so fatigued, for she talked in the most wretched desponding way conceivable, particularly the last three stages, she talked all the way,—so that you won’t expect me to say much, or even to express myself as I should do in thanks for your kindnesses. My sister will acknowlege them when she can.—

I shall not have heard how she is to day until too late for the Post, but if any great change takes place for better or worse, I shall certainly let you know.

She tells me something about having given away one of my coats to your servant. It is a new one, and perhaps may be of small use to him. If you can get it me again, I shall very willingly give him a compensation. I shall also be much obliged by your sending in a parcel all the manuscripts, books &c. she left behind. I want in particular the Dramatic Extracts, as my purpose is to make use of the remainder of my holydays in completing them at the British Museum, which will be employment & money in the end.

I am exceedingly harrassed with the journey, but that will go off in a day or two, and I will set to work. I know you will grieve for us, but I hope my sister’s illness is not worse than many she has got through before. Only I am afraid the fatigue of the journey may affect her general health. You shall have notice how she goes on. In the mean time, accept our kindest thanks.

[Signature cut off.]
[No date. Endorsed Oct, 1807.]

MY dear Sarah,—I am two letters in your debt; but it has not been so much from idleness, as a wish first to see how your comical love affair would turn out. You know, I make a pretence not to interfere; but like all old maids I feel a mighty solicitude about the event of love stories. I learn from the Lover that he has not been so remiss in his duty as you supposed. His Effusion, and your complaints of his inconstancy, crossed each other on the road. He tells me his was a very strange letter, and that
probably it has affronted you. That it was a strange letter I can readily believe; but that you were affronted by a strange letter is not so easy for me to conceive, that not being your way of taking things. But however it be, let some answer come, either to him, or else to me, showing cause why you do not answer him. And pray, by all means, preserve the said letter, that I may one day have the pleasure of seeing how
Mr. Hazlitt treats of love.

I was at your brother’s on Thursday. Mrs. S. tells me she has not written, because she does not like to put you to the expense of postage. They are very well. Little Missy thrives amazingly. Mrs. Stoddart conjectures she is in the family way again; and those kind of conjectures generally prove too true. Your other sister-in-law, Mrs. Hazlitt, was brought to bed last week of a boy: so that you are likely to have plenty of nephews and nieces.

Yesterday evening we were at Rickman’s; and who should we find there but Hazlitt; though, if you do not know it was his first invitation there, it will not surprise you as much as it did us. We were very much pleased, because we dearly love our friends to be respected by our friends.

The most remarkable events of the evening were, that we had a very fine pine-apple; that Mr. Phillips, Mr. Lamb, and Mr. Hazlitt played at Cribbage in the most polite and gentlemanly manner possible—and that I won two rubbers at whist.

I am glad Aunty left you some business to do. Our compliments to her and your Mother. Is it as cold at Winterslow as it is here? How do the Lions go on? I am better, and Charles is tolerably well. Godwin’s new Tragedy will probably be damned the latter end of next week. Charles has written the Prologue. Prologues and Epilogues will be his death. If you know the extent of Mrs. Reynolds’ poverty, you will be glad to hear Mr. Norris has got ten pounds a year for her from the Temple Society. She will be able to make out pretty well now.

Farewell—Determine as wisely as you can in regard to Hazlitt; and, if your determination is to have him, Heaven send you many happy years together. If I am not mistaken, I have concluded letters on the Corydon Courtship with this same wish. I hope it is not ominous of change; for if I were sure you would not be quite starved to death, nor beaten to a mummy, I should like to see Hazlitt and you come together, if (as Charles observes) it were only for the joke sake.

Write instantly to me.

Yours most affectionately,
M. Lamb.
Saturday morning.

[The reference to Godwin’s tragedy, “Faulkener,” which was produced on December 16, 1807, would indicate a later date, except that that play was so frequently postponed.

The Lover this time is, at last, William Hazlitt. Miss Stoddart was not his first love; some time before he had wished to many a Miss Railton of Liverpool; then, in the Lakes, he had had passages with a farmer’s daughter involving a ducking at the hands of jealous rivals; while De Quincey would have us believe that Hazlitt proposed to Dorothy Wordsworth. But it was Sarah Stoddart whom he was destined to marry. A specimen of Hazlitt’s love letters (which Mary Lamb wished to see) will be found in Mr. W. C. Hazlitt’s Memoirs of William Hazlitt, Vol. I., page 153. The marriage turned out anything but a joke.

Mrs. Reynolds’ poverty was in later years further relieved by an annuity of £30 from Charles Lamb.]

Dec. 21, 1807.

MY dear Sarah,—I have deferred answering your last letter, in hopes of being able to give you some intelligence that might be useful to you; for I every day expected that Hazlitt or you would communicate the affair to your brother; but, as the Doctor is silent upon the subject, I conclude he yet knows nothing of the matter. You desire my advice; and therefore I tell you I think you ought to tell your brother as soon as possible; for, at present, he is on very friendly visiting terms with Hazlitt, and, if he is not offended by a too long concealment, will do every thing in his power to serve you. If you chuse that I should tell him, I will; but I think it would come better from you. If you can persuade Hazlitt to mention it, that would be still better; for I know your brother would be unwilling to give credit to you, because you deceived yourself in regard to Corydon. Hazlitt, I know, is shy of speaking first; but I think it of such great importance to you to have your brother friendly in the business, that, if you can overcome his reluctance, it would be a great point gained. For you must begin the world with ready money—at least an hundred pound; for, if you once go into furnished lodgings, you will never be able to lay by money to buy furniture.


If you obtain your brother’s approbation, he might assist you, either by lending or otherwise. I have a great opinion of his generosity, where he thinks it would be useful.

Hazlitt’s brother is mightily pleased with the match; but he says you must have furniture, and be clear in the world at first setting out, or you will be always behindhand. He also said he would give you what furniture he could spare. I am afraid you can bring but few things away from your house. What a pity that you have laid out so much money on your cottage!—that money would have just done. I most heartily congratulate you on having so well got over your first difficulties; and, now that it is quite settled, let us have no more fears. I now mean not only to hope and wish, but to persuade myself, that you will be very happy together.

Endeavour to keep your mind as easy as you can. You ought to begin the world with a good stock of health and spirits: it is quite as necessary as ready money at first setting out. Do not teize yourself about coming to town. When your brother learns how things are going on, we shall consult him about meetings and so forth; but, at present, any hasty step of that kind would not answer, I know. If Hazlitt were to go down to Salisbury, or you were to come up here, without consulting your brother, you know it would never do.

Charles is just come in to dinner; he desires his love and best wishes.

Yours affectionately,
M. Lamb.
Monday morning.

[Letter No. 165 shows that when Dr. Stoddart was at length told of the engagement he resented it.

We now come to two curious letters from Charles Lamb to Joseph Hume, not available for this edition, which are printed by Mr. W. C. Hazlitt in Lamb and Hazlitt. The first, dated December 29, 1807, contains the beginning of an elaborate hoax maintained by Lamb and Hume (who was Joseph Hume, a clerk in the Victualling Office at Somerset House, and the author of a translation of Tasso), in which Hazlitt, although the victim, played his part. Lamb asserts that Hazlitt has cut his throat. He also incidentally regrets that he cannot accept an invitation to dine with Hume: “Cold bones of mutton and leather-roasted potatoes at Pimlico at ten must carry it away from a certain Turkey and contingent plumb-pudding at Montpelier at four (I always spell plumb-pudding with a b, p-l-u-m-b—) I think it reads fatter and more suetty.”

In reply to this letter came one from Hume, dated January 11, 1808, referring to a humble petition and remonstrance by Hazlitt,
dated January 10, 1808, showing that he is not dead. The petition will be found in full in
Lamb and Hazlitt. It ends thus:—

With all the sincerity of a man doubtful between life and death, the petitioner declares that he looks upon the said Charles Lamb as the ring-leader in this unjust conspiracy against him, and as the sole cause and author of the jeopardy he is in: but that as losers have leave to speak, he must say, that, if it were not for a poem he wrote on Tobacco about two years ago, a farce called Mr. H he brought out last winter with more wit than discretion in it, some prologues and epilogues he has since written with good success, and some lively notes he is at present writing on dead authors, he sees no reason why he should not be considered as much a dead man as himself, and the undertaker spoken to accordingly.

The next letter, dated January 12, 1808, carrying on the joke, consists of speculations as to Hazlitt’s reappearance. Lamb remarks that the commonest reason for the return of the spirits of the dead is the desire to reveal hidden treasures which they had hoarded in their lifetime. He destroys this theory in the case of Hazlitt in the following passage:—

“I for my part always looked upon our dear friend as a man rich rather in the gifts of his mind than in earthly treasures. He had few rents or comings in, that I was ever aware of, small (if any) landed property, and by all that I could witness he subsisted more upon the well-timed contributions of a few chosen friends who knew his worth, than upon any Estate which could properly be called his own. I myself have contributed my part. God knows, I speak not this in reproach. I have never taken, nor indeed did the Deceased offer, any written acknowledgments of the various sums which he has had of me, by which I could make the fact manifest to the legal eye of an Executor or Administrator. He was not a Man to affect these niceties in his transactions with his friends. He would often say, Money was nothing between intimate acquaintances, that Golden Streams had no Ebb, that a Purse mouth never regorged, that God loved a chearful giver but the Devil hated a free taker, that a paid Loan makes angels groan, with many such like sayings: he had always free and generous notions about money. His nearest friends know this best.”

Continuing the subject of the return of spirits, Lamb decides that it must be with the wish to establish some speculative point in religion. “But whatever the cause of this re-appearance may prove to be, we may now with truth assert that our deceased friend as attained to one object of his pursuits, one hour’s separate existence gives a dead man clearer notions of metaphysics than all the treatises which in his state of casual entanglement the least immersed spirit can out-spin. It is good to leave such subjects to that period when we shall have no Heads to ache, no brains to distort, no faces to lengthen, no clothes to neglect.”]