LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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My Friends and Acquaintance
Charles Lamb V

Vol I Contents
Charles Lamb I
Charles Lamb II
Charles Lamb III
Charles Lamb IV
‣ Charles Lamb V
Charles Lamb VI
Charles Lamb VII
Charles Lamb VIII
Charles Lamb IX
Charles Lamb X
Thomas Campbell I
Thomas Campbell II
Thomas Campbell III
Thomas Campbell IV
Thomas Campbell V
Thomas Campbell VI
Thomas Campbell VII
Lady Blessington I
Lady Blessington II
Lady Blessington III
Lady Blessington IV
Lady Blessington V
R. Plumer Ward I
R. Plumer Ward II
R. Plumer Ward III
R. Plumer Ward IV
R. Plumer Ward V
R. Plumer Ward VI
Appendix vol I
Vol II Contents
R. Plumer Ward VII
R. Plumer Ward VIII
R. Plumer Ward IX
R. Plumer Ward X
R. Plumer Ward XI
R. Plumer Ward XII
R. Plumer Ward XIII
R. Plumer Ward XIV
R. Plumer Ward XV
R. Plumer Ward XVI
R. Plumer Ward XVII
R. Plumer Ward XVIII
R. Plumer Ward XIX
R. Plumer Ward XX
R. Plumer Ward XXI
R. Plumer Ward XXII
R. Plumer Ward XXIII
Horace & James Smith I
Horace & James Smith II
William Hazlitt I
William Hazlitt II
William Hazlitt III
William Hazlitt IV
William Hazlitt V
William Hazlitt VI
William Hazlitt VII
William Hazlitt VIII
Appendix vol II
Vol III Contents
William Hazlitt IX
William Hazlitt X
William Hazlitt XI
William Hazlitt XII
William Hazlitt XIII
William Hazlitt XIV
William Hazlitt XV
William Hazlitt XVI
William Hazlitt XVII
William Hazlitt XVIII
William Hazlitt XIX
William Hazlitt XX
William Hazlitt XXI
William Hazlitt XXII
William Hazlitt XXIII
William Hazlitt XXIV
William Hazlitt XXV
William Hazlitt XXVI
Laman Blanchard I
Laman Blanchard II
Laman Blanchard III
Laman Blanchard IV
Laman Blanchard V
Laman Blanchard VI
Laman Blanchard VII
Laman Blanchard VIII
R & T Sheridan I
R & T Sheridan II
R & T Sheridan III
R & T Sheridan IV
R & T Sheridan V
R & T Sheridan VI
R & T Sheridan VII
R & T Sheridan VIII
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I’m afraid it must not be concluded that Lamb gained in personal comfort and happiness by the change of life consequent on his removal from London. It is true he got rid of all those visitors who sought him only for his oddity or his reputation, and retained those only between whom and himself there could be any real interchange of intellect and affection. But it may be doubted whether the former were not more necessary to him than the latter;—for it was with the poor and lowly (whether in spirit or in purse) that Lamb chiefly sympathized, and with them he could hold communion only in the busy scenes of metropolitan life; and that communion, either in imagination or in fact, was necessary to the due exercise and healthy tone of his mind. The higher class of communion he could at all times
find, when he needed it, in books; but that living sympathy which alone came home to his bosom, he could compass nowhere but in the living world of towns and cities.

In fact, Lamb’s retirement, first from the pleasant monotony of a public office, and afterwards from the busy idleness of his beloved London, was the crowning one of those self-sacrifices which he was ever ready to make at the shrine of human affection; sacrifices not the less noble and beautiful that they were submitted to with an ill grace; for what sacrifices are those which it costs us nothing to make? It was for the greater security of his sister’s health that Lamb retired from London; and, in doing so, he as much offered himself a sacrifice for her well-being as the martyrs and heroes of other times did for their religion or their country.

And why should the truth be concealed on this point? “The country” was to Lamb precisely what London is to thoroughly country people born and bred,—who, however they may long to see it for the first time, and are lost in a week’s empty ad-
miration at its “sights” and wonders,—would literally die of home sickness if compelled to remain long in it. I remember, when wandering once with Lamb among the pleasant scenery about Enfield shortly after his retirement there, I was congratulating him on the change between these walks and his accustomed ones about Islington, Dalston, and the like. But I soon found that I was treading on tender ground, and he declared afterwards, with a vehemence of expression extremely unusual with him, and almost with tears in his eyes, that the most squalid garret in the most confined and noisome purlieu of London would be a paradise to him, compared with the fairest dwelling placed in the loveliest scenery of “the country.” “I hate the country!” he exclaimed, in a tone and with an emphasis which showed not only that the feeling came from the bottom of his soul, but that it was working ungentle and sinister results there, that he was himself almost alarmed at. The fact is that, away from London, Lamb’s spirits seemed to shrink and retire inwards, and his body to fade and wither like a
plant in an uncongenial soil. The whole of what he felt to be the truly vital years of his existence had been passed in London; almost every pleasant association connected with the growth, development, and exercise of his intellectual being belonged to some metropolitan locality; every agreeable recollection of his social intercourse with his most valued friends arose out of some London scene or incident. He was born in London; the whole even of his school life was passed in London;* he earned his living in London,—performing there, for thirty years, that to him pleasantly monotonous drudgery which gave him his ultimate independence;† in London he won that fame which, however little store he might seem to set by it, was not without a high and cherished value in his eyes. In short, London was the centre to which ‘every movement of Lamb’s mind gravitated—the

* At Christ’s Hospital, where he was contemporary with Coleridge, and where their life-long friendship commenced.

† He was a clerk in the India House for that period, but before I knew him had retired on half-pay.

pole to which the needle of his affections and sympathies vibrated—the home to which his heart was tied by innumerable strings of flesh and blood, that could not be broken without lacerating the being of which they formed a part. In Lamb’s eye and estimation the close passages and grim quadrangles of the Temple (one of his early dwelling-places) were far more pleasant and healthful than the most fair and flowery spots of
“Auburn, loveliest village of the plain.”

To him, the tide of human life that flowed through Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill, was worth all the Wyes and Yarrows in the universe; there were, to his thinking, no “Green Lanes” to compare with Fetter Lane or St Bride’s; no Garden like Covent Garden; and the singing of all the feathered tribes of the air, “grated harsh discord” in his ear, attuned as it was only to the drone or squall of the London ballad-singer, the grinding of the hand-organ, and the nondescript “London cries,” set to their cart-wheel accompaniments.

And yet, when Lamb lived in the country,
he used to spend the whole of the fore part of his days, winter and summer alike, in long walks and wanderings—not in search of any specific scenes or objects of interest or curiosity, but merely for the sake of walking—its movement and action being congenial to the somewhat torpid and sluggish character of his temperament; for, when sitting still alone, his thoughts were apt to brood and hover, in an uneasy slumberousness, over dangerous and intractable questions, on which his strong common sense told him there was no satisfaction to be gained, but from which his searching spirit could not detach itself.

There was another inducement to these long walks. In whatever direction they lay, Lamb always saw at the end of them the pleasant vision of a foaming pot of ale or porter, which was always liked the better for being quaffed
“In the worst inn’s worst room.”

The reader, who has accompanied me thus far in my personal recollections of Charles Lamb, will not object to my dwelling for a few moments on a habit of his latter years,
which is one of those on which a man’s friends are apt, without sufficient reason, to interdict themselves from speaking; thus abandoning the topic to the tender mercies of his enemies.

The truth is, that as “to the pure, all is pure,” so to the wise and good, all is wise and good. Now, there never was a wiser and better man than Charles Lamb, and the habit to which I am about to refer more definitely than in the above passage, was one of the wisest to which he addicted himself; and if it now and then lapsed into folly, what is the merely human wisdom which does not sometimes do the like?

When Lamb was about to accompany a parting guest half a mile, or half a dozen miles on his way to town (which was his almost constant practice), you could always see that his sister had rather he stayed at home; and her last salutation was apt to be—“Now, Charles, you’re not going to take any ale?” “No, no,” was his more than half-impatient reply. Now, this simple question, and its simple reply, form the text on which I ask leave to preach my little
homily on the imputed sin of an extra glass of gin and water.

The truth, then, is, that Lamb’s excellent sister, in her over-anxious and affectionate care in regard to what she looked at too exclusively as a question of bodily health, endeavoured latterly to restrict her brother too much in the use—for to the abuse he was never addicted—of those artificial stimuli which were to a certain extent indispensable to the healthy tone of his mental condition. To keep him from the chance of being ill, she often kept him from the certainty of being well and happy—not to mention the keeping others from partaking in the inestimable results of that health and happiness. I have listened delightedly to the intellectual Table Talk of a large proportion of the most distinguished conversers of the day, and have ever found it, as a rule, to be infinitely more deeply imbued with wisdom, and the virtues which spring from wisdom, and infinitely more capable of impressing and generating these, than the written words of the same teachers. But I have no recollection of any such colloquies that have left such delightful
and instructive impressions on my mind as those which have taken place between the first and the last glass of gin and water, after a rump-steak or a pork-chop supper in the simple little domicile of Charles Lamb and his sister at Enfield Chace. And it must not be overlooked that the afore-named gin and water played no insignificant part in those repasts. True, it created nothing. But it was the talisman that not only unlocked the poor casket in which the rich thoughts of Charles Lamb were shut up, but set in motion that machinery in the absence of which they would have lain like gems in the mountain, or gold in the mine.

No really good converser, who duly appreciates the use and virtue of that noble faculty, ever talks for the pleasure of talking, or in the absence of some external stimulus to the act. He talks wisely and eloquently only because he thinks and feels wisely and eloquently, and he is always fonder of listening than of talking. He talks chiefly that he may listen, not listens merely that he may talk.

Now Charles Lamb, who, when present
was always the centre from which flowed and to which tended the stream of the talk, was literally tongue-tied till some slight artificial stimulus let loose the sluggish member; and his profound and subtle spirit itself seemed to wear chains till the same external agency set it at liberty. Indeed, compared with what it really contained, his mind remained a sealed book to the last, as regards the world in general. I mean that his writings, rich and beautiful as they are, were but mere spillings, or forced overflowings, from the hidden fountains of his mind and heart. It was a task of almost insuperable difficulty and trouble to him to write; for he had no desire for literary fame, no affected anxiety to make his fellow-creatures wiser or better than he found them, and no fancied mission to do so; nor had he any pecuniary necessities pressing him on to the labour. So that I do not believe he would ever have written at all but for that salutary “pressure from within” which answered to the divine afflatus of the oracles of old, and would have vent in speech or written words. His thoughts were like the inspirations of the true poet, which must
be expressed by visible symbols or audible sounds, or they drive their recipient mad. What was “the Reading Public” to Charles Lamb? He did not care a pinch out of his dear sister’s snuff-box whether they were supplied to repletion with “food convenient for them,” or left to starve themselves into mental health for the want of it. He knew that, in any case, what he had to offer would be “caviare” to them.

But it was a very different case with regard to the little world of friends and intimates that his social and intellectual qualities had gathered about him. When with them, it was always as pleasant and easy for him to talk as it was to listen; but never more so; for the truth is, he did not care much even about them, so far as related to any pressing desire or necessity for their admiration or appreciation of his mental parts or acquirements: so that latterly nothing enabled or rather induced him to talk at all but that artificial stimulus which for a time restored to him his youth, and chased away that spirit of indifference which had pervaded the whole of his moral being during the last ten years of his life.


In the country, too, this mental apathy and indifference gathered double weight and strength by the absence of any of those more legitimate means of resisting them, which were always at hand in London: for Lamb was not, as I have hinted, among those fortunate persons who
“Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything:”
on the contrary, he saw about him on every side an infinite deal of bad, and no means of turning it to good; while the good that there really is, he saw perpetually overlooked, or turned to bad, by those who should apply and administer it.

The reader must not for a moment suppose, from anything I have now said, that Charles Lamb was in the habit of indulging in that “inordinate cup” which is so justly said to be “unblest, and its ingredient a devil.” My very object and excuse in alluding to the subject has been to show that precisely the reverse was the case—that the cup in which he indulged was a blessing one, no less to himself than to others, and that for both parties “its ingredient” was an angel.