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Works of Charles and Mary Lamb. VI-VII. Letters
Letters: 1817

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
To Willm. Ayrton Esqre.
Temple, May 12, 1817.
MY dear friend,
Before I end,—
Have you any
More orders for Don Giovanni
To give
Him that doth live
Your faithful Zany?
Without raillery
I mean Gallery
For I am a person that shuns
All ostentation
And being at the top of the fashion;
And seldom go to operas
But in formâ pauperis.
I go to the play
In a very economical sort of a way,
Rather to see
Than be seen.
Though I’m no ill sight
By candle-light,
And in some kinds of weather.
You might pit me
For height
Against Kean;
But in a grand tragic scene
I’m nothing:—
It would create a kind of loathing
To see me act Hamlet;
There’d be many a damn let
At my presumption
If I should try,
Being a fellow of no gumption.
By the way, tell me candidly how you relish
This, which they call
The lapidary style?
Opinions vary.
The late Mr. Mellish
Could never abide it.
He thought it vile,
And coxcombical.
My friend the Poet Laureat,
Who is a great lawyer at
Anything comical,
Was the first who tried it;
But Mellish could never abide it.
But it signifies very little what Mellish said,
Because he is dead.
For who can confute
A body that’s mute?—
Or who would fight
With a senseless sprite?—
Or think of troubling
An impenetrable old goblin
That’s dead and gone,
And stiff as stone,
To convince him with arguments pro and con,
As if some live logician,
Bred up at Merton,
Or Mr. Hazlitt, the Metaphysician—
Hey, Mr Ayrton!
With all your rare tone.
For tell me how should an apparition
List to your call,
Though you talk’d for ever,—
Ever so clever,
When his ear itself,
By which he must hear, or not hear at all,
Is laid on the shelf?
Or put the case
(For more grace)
It were a female spectre—
Now could you expect her
To take much gust
In long speeches,
With her tongue as dry as dust,
In a sandy place,
Where no peaches,
Nor lemons, nor limes, nor oranges hang,
To drop on the drougth of an arid harangue,
Or quench,
With their sweet drench,
The fiery pangs which the worms inflict,
With their endless nibblings,
Like quibblings,
Which the corpse may dislike, but can ne’er contradict—
Hey, Mr. Ayrton?
With all your rare tone—
I am.
C. Lamb.

[The text is from Ayrton’s transcript in a private volume lately in the possession of Mr. Edward Ayrton, lettered, Lamb’s Works, Vol. III., uniform with the 1818 edition.

William Ayrton (1777-1858), a friend and neighbour of the Burneys, and a member of Lamb’s whist-playing set, was a musical critic, and at this time director of the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, where he had just produced Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” His wife was Marianne Arnold, sister of Samuel James Arnold, manager of the Lyceum Theatre.

“You might pit me for height against Kean.” This was so. Edmund Kean was small in stature, though not so “immaterially” built as Lamb is said to have been.

Mr. Mellish.” Possibly the Joseph Charles Mellish who translated Schiller.

The Laureate, Southey, had first tried the lapidary style in “Gooseberry Pie”; later, without rhymes, in “Thalaba.”

Some time in the intervening three months before the next letter the Lambs went to Brighton for their holiday.]

Aug. 31st, 1817.

MY dear Barron,—The bearer of this letter so far across the seas is Mr. Lawrey, who comes out to you as a missionary, and whom I have been strongly importuned to recommend to you as a most worthy creature by Mr. Fenwick, a very old, honest friend of mine, of whom, if my memory does not deceive me, you have had some knowledge heretofore as editor of the “Statesman”—a man of talent, and patriotic. If you can show him any facilities in his arduous undertaking, you will oblige us much. Well, and how does the land of thieves use you? and how do you pass your time in your extra-judicial intervals? Going about the streets with a lantern, like Diogenes, looking for an honest man? You may look long enough, I fancy. Do give me some notion of the manners of the inhabitants where you are. They don’t thieve all day long, do they? No human property could stand such continuous battery. And what do they do when they an’t stealing?


Have you got a theatre? What pieces are performed? Shakespear’s, I suppose—not so much for the poetry, as for his having once been in danger of leaving his country on account of certain “small deer.”

Have you poets among you? Cursed plagiarists, I fancy, if you have any. I would not trust an idea or a pocket-handkerchief of mine among ’em. You are almost competent to answer Lord Bacon’s problem, whether a nation of atheists can subsist together. You are practically in one:—
“So thievish ’tis, that the eighth commandment itself
Scarce seemeth there to be.”
Our old honest world goes on with little perceptible variation. Of course you have heard of poor
Mitchell’s death, and that G. Dyer is one of Lord Stanhope’s residuaries. I am afraid he has not touched much of the residue yet. He is positively as lean as Cassius. Barnes is going to Demerara or Essequibo, I am not quite certain which. A[lsager] is turned actor. He came out in genteel comedy at Cheltenham this season, and has hopes of a London engagement.

For my own history, I am just in the same spot, doing the same thing (videlicet, little or nothing,) as when you left me; only I have positive hopes that I shall be able to conquer that inveterate habit of smoking which you may remember I indulged in. I think of making a beginning this evening, viz., Sunday 31st August, 1817, not Wednesday, 2nd Feb., 1818, as it will be perhaps when you read this for the first time. There is the difficulty of writing from one end of the globe (hemispheres I call ’em) to another! Why, half the truths I have sent you in this letter will become lies before they reach you, and some of the lies (which I have mixed for variety s sake, and to exercise your judgment in the finding of them out) may be turned into sad realities before you shall be called upon to detect them. Such are the defects of going by different chronologies. Your now is not my now; and again, your then is not my then; but my now may be your then, and vice versâ. Whose head is competent to these things?

How does Mrs. Field get on in her geography? Does she know where she is by this time? I am not sure sometimes you are not in another planet; but then I don’t like to ask Capt. Burney, or any of those that know anything about it, for fear of exposing my ignorance.

Our kindest remembrances, however, to Mrs. F., if she will accept of reminiscences from another planet, or at least another hemisphere.

C. L.

[This is Lamb’s first letter that has been preserved to Barron Field. Barron Field (1786-1846) was a lawyer, a son of Henry Field, apothecary to Christ’s Hospital, and brother of a fellow clerk of Lamb’s in the India House. He had also been a contributor to Leigh Hunt’s Reflector in 1810-1812. Field was appointed Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, whither he sailed in 1816, reaching Sydney in February, 1817. His wife was a Miss Jane Carncroft.

This letter forms the groundwork of Lamb’s Elia essay on “Distant Correspondents” (see Vol. II., page 104), which may be read with it as an example of the difference in richness between Lamb’s epistolary and finished literary style.

“Small deer”—“Mice and rats, and such small deer” (“King Lear,” III., 4, 144)—an allusion to Shakespeare’s deer-stealing episode.

“Lord Bacon’s problem.” Bacon discusses Atheists in more than one place; but I do not find this problem stated.

“So thievish ’tis . . .” A perversion of Coleridge’s lines, in The Ancient Mariner:
So lonely ’twas, that God himself
Scarce seemed there to be.

“Poor Mitchell’s death.” This may have been one of the lies referred to a little lower. If so, Thomas Mitchell (1783-1845) was probably intended, as he had been at Christ’s Hospital, and was a friend of Leigh Hunt’s, and might thus have known Lamb and Field. He translated Aristophanes. The only Mitchell of any importance who died in 1817 was Colonel Mitchell, who commanded a brigade at Waterloo; but Lamb would hardly know anything of him.

George Dyer, who had been tutor in the family of the third Earl of Stanhope (Citizen Stanhope), was one of the ten executors to whom that peer’s estate was left, after paying a few legacies. Among them was another of Lamb’s acquaintances, Joseph Jekyll, mentioned in the Elia essay on the Old Benchers. Dyer repudiated the office, but the heir persuaded him to accept an annuity. Cassius (see “Julius Cæsar,” I., 2, 194) had “a lean and hungry look.”

Thomas Barnes (1785-1841), another old Christ’s Hospitaller, and a contributor to The Reflector, became editor of The Times in 1817. His projected journey was one of the “lies”; nor did Alsager, another Times man, whom we have already met, turn actor.]

Londres, October, [1817].

DEAR Friends,—It is with infinite regret I inform you that the pleasing privilege of receiving letters, by which I have for these twenty years gratified my friends and abused the liberality of the Company trading to the Orient, is now at an end. A cruel edict of the Directors has swept it away altogether. The devil sweep away their patronage also. Rascals who think nothing of sponging upon their employers for their Venison and Turtle and Burgundy five days in a week, to the tune of five thousand pounds in a year, now find out that the profits of trade will not allow the innocent communication of thought between their underlings and their friends in distant provinces to proceed untaxed, thus withering up the heart of friendship and making the news of a friend’s good health worse than indifferent, as tidings to be deprecated as bringing with it ungracious expenses. Adieu, gentle correspondence, kindly conveyance of soul, interchange of love, of opinions, of puns and what not! Henceforth a friend that does not stand in visible or palpable distance to me, is nothing to me. They have not left to the bosom of friendship even that cheap intercourse of sentiment the twopenny medium. The upshot is, you must not direct any more letters through me. To me you may annually, or biennially, transmit a brief account of your goings on [on] a single sheet, from which after I have deducted as much as the postage comes to, the remainder will be pure pleasure. But no more of those pretty commissions and counter commissions, orders and revoking of orders, obscure messages and obscurer explanations, by which the intellects of Marshall and Fanny used to be kept in a pleasing perplexity, at the moderate rate of six or seven shillings a week. In short, you must use me no longer as a go-between. Henceforth I write up no thoroughfare.

Well, and how far is Saint Valery from Paris; and do you get wine and walnuts tolerable; and the vintage, does it suffer from the wet? I take it, the wine of this season will be all wine and water; and have you any plays and green rooms, and Fanny Kellies to chat with of an evening; and is the air purer than the old gravel pits, and the bread so much whiter, as they say? Lord, what things you see that travel! I dare say the people are all French wherever you go. What an overwhelming effect that must have! I have stood one of ’em at a time, but two I generally found overpowering,
I used to cut and run; but, then, in their own vineyards may be they are endurable enough. They say marmosets in Senegambia are so pleasant as the day’s long, jumping and chattering in the orange twigs; but transport ’em, one by one, over here into England, they turn into monkeys, some with tails, some without, and are obliged to be kept in cages.

I suppose you know we’ve left the Temple pro tempore. By the way, this conduct has caused strange surmises in a good lady of our acquaintance. She lately sent for a young gentleman of the India House, who lives opposite her, at Monroe’s, the flute shop in Skinner Street, Snow Hill,—I mention no name, you shall never get out of me what lady I mean,—on purpose to ask all he knew about us. I had previously introduced him to her whist-table. Her inquiries embraced every possible thing that could be known of me, how I stood in the India house, what was the amount of my salary, what it was likely to be hereafter, whether I was thought to be clever in business, why I had taken country lodgings, why at Kingsland in particular, had I friends in that road, was anybody expected to visit me, did I wish for visitors, would an unexpected call be gratifying or not, would it be better if she sent beforehand, did anybody come to see me, wasn’t there a gentleman of the name of Morgan, did he know him, didn’t he come to see me, did he know how Mr. Morgan lived, she never could make out how they were maintained, was it true that he lived out of the profits of a linendraper’s shop in Bishopsgate Street (there she was a little right, and a little wrong—M. is a gentleman tobacconist); in short, she multiplied demands upon him till my friend, who is neither over-modest nor nervous, declared he quite shuddered. After laying as bare to her curiosity as an anatomy he trembled to think what she would ask next. My pursuits, inclinations, aversions, attachments (some, my dear friends, of a most delicate nature), she lugged ’em out of him, or would, had he been privy to them, as you pluck a horse-bean from its iron stem, not as such tender rosebuds should be pulled. The fact is I am come to Kingsland, and that is the real truth of the matter, and nobody but yourselves should have extorted such a confession from me. I suppose you have seen by the Papers that Manning is arrived in England. He expressed some mortifications at not finding Mrs. Kenney in England. He looks a good deal sunburnt, and is got a little reserved, but I hope it will wear off. You will see by the Papers also that Dawe is knighted. He has been painting the Princess of Coborg and her husband. This is all the news I could think of. Write to us, but not by us, for I have near ten correspondents of this latter description, and one or other comes pouring in every day, till my purse strings and heart strings crack. Bad habits are not broken at once. I
am sure you will excuse the apparent indelicacy of mentioning this, but dear is my shirt, but dearer is my skin, and it’s too late when the steed is stole, to shut the door.—Well, and does
Louisa grow a fine girl, is she likely to have her mother’s complexion, and does Tom polish in French air—Henry I mean—and Kenney is not so fidgety, and You sit down sometimes for a quiet half-hour or so, and all is comfortable, no bills (that you call writs) nor anything else (that you are equally sure to miscall) to annoy you? Vive la gaite de cœur et la bell pastime, vive la beau France et revive ma cher Empreur.

C. Lamb.

[James Kenney and his wife were now living at St. Valery. Marshall was Godwin’s old friend, whom we have already seen, and Fanny was Fanny Holcroft.

Lamb’s friend Fanny Kelly is first mentioned by Lamb in this letter. Frances Maria Kelly (1790-1882), to give her her full name, was then playing at the Lyceum. We shall soon see much of her.

“We’ve left the Temple pro tempore”—referring to the Dalston lodgings.

“What lady I mean.” Mrs. Godwin lived in Skinner Street.

Manning, on his return from China, was wrecked near Sunda on February 17, 1817. The passengers were taken to St. Helena, and he did not reach England until the summer. This must give us the date of the present letter, previously attributed to October, 1816.

George Dawe was not knighted. Probably it was rumoured that he was to be. His portrait of Princess Charlotte of Saxe-Coburg (who died in 1817 so soon after her marriage) was very popular.

Louisa would be, I suppose, Louisa Holcroft. There was a Tom Holcroft, in whom later Lamb took some interest.]

[p.m. November 21, 1817.]

MY dear Miss Wordsworth, Your kind letter has given us very great pleasure,—the sight of your hand writing was a most welcome surprize to us. We have heard good tidings of you by all our friends who were so fortunate as to visit you this summer, and rejoice to see it confirmed by yourself. You have quite the
advantage in volunteering a letter. There is no merit in replying to so welcome a stranger.

We have left the Temple. I think you will be sorry to hear this. I know I have never been so well satisfied with thinking of you at Rydal Mount as when I could connect the idea of you with your own Grasmere Cottage. Our rooms were dirty and out of repair, and the inconveniences of living in chambers became every year more irksome, and so at last we mustered up resolution enough to leave the good old place that so long had sheltered us—and here we are, living at a Brazier’s shop, No. 20, in Russell Street, Covent Garden, a place all alive with noise and bustle, Drury Lane Theatre in sight from our front and Covent Garden from our back windows. The hubbub of the carriages returning from the play does not annoy me in the least—strange that it does not, for it is quite tremendous. I quite enjoy looking out of the window and listening to the calling up of the carriages and the squabbles of the coachmen and linkboys. It is the oddest scene to look down upon, I am sure you would be amused with it. It is well I am in a chearful place or I should have many misgivings about leaving the Temple. I look forward with great pleasure to the prospect of seeing my good friend Miss Hutchinson. I wish Rydal Mount with all its inhabitants enclosed were to be transplanted with her and to remain stationary in the midst of Covent Garden. I passed through the street lately where Mr. and Mrs. Wordsworth lodged; several fine new houses, which were then just rising out of the ground, are quite finished and a noble entrance made that way into Portland Place.

I am very sorry for Mr. De Quincey—what a blunder the poor man made when he took up his dwelling among the mountains. I long to see my friend Pypos. Coleridge is still at Little Hampton with Mrs. Gillman, he has been so ill as to be confined to his room almost the whole time he has been there.

Charles has had all his Hogarths bound in a book, they were sent home yesterday, and now that I have them all together and perceive the advantage of peeping close at them through my spectacles I am reconciled to the loss of them hanging round the room, which has been a great mortification to me—in vain I tried to console myself with looking at our new chairs and carpets, for we have got new chairs, and carpets covering all over our two sitting rooms, I missed my old friends and could not be comforted—then I would resolve to learn to look out of the window, a habit I never could attain in my life, and I have given it up as a thing quite impracticable—yet when I was at Brighton last summer, the first week I never took my eyes off from the sea, not even to look in a book. I had not seen the sea for sixteen years. Mrs. Morgan, who was with us, kept her liking, and continued her seat in the window till the
very last, while Charles and I played truant and wandered among the hills, which we magnified into little mountains and almost as good as Westmoreland scenery. Certainly we made discoveries of many pleasant walks which few of the Brighton visitors have ever dreamed of—for like as is the case in the neighbourhood of London, after the first two or three miles we were sure to find ourselves in a perfect solitude. I hope we shall meet before the walking faculties of either of us fail. You say you can walk fifteen miles with ease,—that is exactly my stint, and more fatigues me; four or five miles every third or fourth day, keeping very quiet between, was all Mrs. Morgan could accomplish.

God bless you and yours. Love to all and each one.

I am ever yours most affectionately

M. Lamb.
LETTER 226 (continued)

DEAR Miss Wordsworth, Here we are, transplanted from our native soil. I thought we never could have been torn up from the Temple. Indeed it was an ugly wrench, but like a tooth, now ’tis out and I am easy. We never can strike root so deep in any other ground. This, where we are, is a light bit of gardener’s mold, and if they take us up from it, it will cost no blood and groans like mandrakes pull’d up. We are in the individual spot I like best in all this great city. The theatres with all [a few words cut away: Talfourd hastheir noises. Covent Garden”] dearer to me than any gardens of Alcinous, where we are morally sure of the earliest peas and ’sparagus. Bow Street, where the thieves are examined, within a few yards of us. Mary had not been here four and twenty hours before she saw a Thief. She sits at the window working, and casually throwing out her eyes, she sees a concourse of people coming this way, with a constable to conduct the solemnity. These little incidents agreeably diversify a female life. It is a delicate subject, but is Mr. * * * really married? and has he found a gargle to his mind? O how funny he did talk to me about her, in terms of such mild quiet whispering speculative profligacy. But did the animalcule and she crawl over the rubric together, or did they not? Mary has brought her part of this letter to an orthodox and loving conclusion, which is very well, for I have no room for pansies and remembrances. What a nice holyday I got on Wednesday by favor of a princess dying. [A line and signature cut away.]


[The Lambs’ house in Russell Street is now (1904) a fruiterer’s: it has been rebuilt. Russell Street, Covent Garden, in those days was divided into Great Russell Street (from the Market to Brydges Street, now Catherine Street) and Little Russell Street (from Brydges Street to Drury Lane). The brazier, or ironmonger, was Mr. Owen, Nos. 20 and 21.

The Wordsworths had moved to Rydal Mount in 1813.

“I am very sorry for Mr. De Quincey.” Probably a reference to one of the opium-eater’s illnesses.

It was at Littlehampton that Coleridge met Henry Francis Cary, the translator of Dante, afterwards one of Lamb’s friends.

“Spot I like best in all this great city.” See Vol. I. of this edition, page 155, for a little essay by Lamb on places of residence in London.

“Mr. * * *.” One can but conjecture as to these asterisks. De Quincey, who was very small, married at the close of 1816.

“A princess dying”—Princess Charlotte of Saxe-Coburg. She was buried, amid national lamentation, on November 19, 1817.]

The Garden of England,
December 10, 1817.

DEAR J. P. C.,—I know how zealously you feel for our friend S. T. Coleridge; and I know that you and your family attended his lectures four or five years ago. He is in bad health and worse mind: and unless something is done to lighten his mind he will soon be reduced to his extremities; and even these are not in the best condition. I am sure that you will do for him what you can; but at present he seems in a mood to do for himself. He projects a new course, not of physic, nor of metaphysic, nor a new course of life, but a new course of lectures on Shakspear and Poetry. There is no man better qualified (always excepting number one); but I am pre-engaged for a series of dissertations on India and India-pendence, to be completed at the expense of the Company, in I know not (yet) how many volumes foolscap folio. I am busy getting up my Hindoo mythology; and for the purpose I am once more enduring Southey’s Curse. To be serious, Coleridge’s state and affairs make me so; and there are particular reasons just now,
and have been any time for the last twenty years, why he should succeed. He will do so with a little encouragement. I have not seen him lately; and he does not know that I am writing.

Yours (for Coleridge’s sake) in haste,

C. Lamb.

[The “Garden of England” of the address stands, of course, for Covent Garden.

This is the first letter to Collier that has been preserved. John Payne Collier (1789-1883), known as a Shakespearian critic and editor of old plays and poems, was then a reporter on The Times. He had recently married. Wordsworth also wrote to Collier on this subject. Coleridge’s lectures were delivered in 1818, beginning on January 27, in Flower-de-Luce Court. Their preservation we owe to Collier’s shorthand notes.

“My Hindoo mythology . . . Southey’s Curse”—The Curse of Kehama.]

December [26], 1817.

MY dear Haydon,—I will come with pleasure to 22, Lisson Grove North, at Rossi’s, half-way up, right-hand side—if I can find it.

C. Lamb.
20, Russell Court, Covent Garden East.
half-way up, next the corner, left hand side.

[The first letter that has been preserved to Haydon, the painter. Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) was then principally known by his “Judgment of Solomon”: he was at this time at work upon his most famous picture, “Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem.” Lamb’s note is in acceptance of the invitation to the famous dinner which Haydon gave on December 28, 1817, to Wordsworth, Keats, Monkhouse and others, with the Comptroller of Stamps thrown in. Haydon’s Diary describes the evening with much humour. See Appendix, page 954.]