LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
Charles Lamb I

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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My first introduction to Charles Lamb took place accidentally, at the lodgings of William Hazlitt, in Down-street, Piccadilly, in 1824, and under circumstances which have impressed it with peculiar vividness on my memory. Mr. Colburn had published anonymously, only two or three days before, a jeu-d’esprit of mine,* which aimed at being, to the prose literature of the day, something like what the “Rejected Addresses” was to the poetry,—with this marked difference, however, that my imitations were in a great measure bonâ fide ones, seeking to re-produce or represent, rather than to ridicule, the respective qualities and styles of the writers imitated; merely (for the sake of “effect”)

* “Rejected Articles.”

pushing their peculiarities to the verge of what the truth permitted.

As I was very young in author-craft at that time, and proportionately nervous as to the personal consequences that might attend a literary adventure of this peculiar character, I had called on Hazlitt on the day in question, in the hope of learning from him anything that might have transpired on the subject in his circle, he himself, and several of his personal friends, being among the imitated. We met from opposite directions at his door, and he had (what was the rarest thing in the world with him) a book in his hand, the uncut leaves of which he had been impatiently tearing open with his finger as he came along, and before we had reached the top of the stairs I found, to my no small alarm, it was the book which occupied all my thoughts.

This was an ominous commencement of my investigation; for the book contained a portrait of Hazlitt himself, drawn with a most unsparing hand, because professing to be his own, and to have been “Rejected,” for obvious reasons, from his own “Spirit of
the Age,” then recently published. Hazlitt’s looks, however, which were an infallible criterion of the temper of his mind at the moment of consulting them, were quite sufficient to satisfy me that he was not displeased with what he had been reading. But before anything could be said on the matter beyond his asking me if I had seen the book, the door opened, and two persons entered whom, though I had never before seen either of them, I at once felt to be
Charles Lamb and his sister.

The plot now thickened; for scarcely had I been introduced to the new-comers, when Hazlitt pointed to the book which he had laid on the table on their entrance, and said to Miss Lamb, “There’s something there about Charles and you. Have you seen it?”

Miss Lamb immediately took up the book, and began to read to herself (evidently with no very good will) the opening paper, which was an imitation of an Essay by Elia.

Here was an accumulation of embarrassments, which no consideration could have induced me to encounter willingly, but which, being inevitable, I contrived to endure with
great apparent composure; though the awkwardness of my position was not a little enhanced by
Miss Lamb presently turning to her brother, and expressing feelings about what she had read, which indicated that her first impression was anything but a favourable or agreeable one. Lamb himself seemed to take no interest whatever in the matter.

They stayed but a very short time, spoke only on the ordinary literary topics of the day, and on taking leave, Lamb pressed me to visit him at Islington, where he then resided.

During this brief interview with the Lambs, nothing in the smallest degree characteristic occurred; and if I had not seen Charles Lamb again, I might have set him down as an ordinary person, whose literary eccentricities and oddities had been gratuitously transferred by report to his personal character and way of life.

I visited Lamb shortly afterwards at his house in Colnbrook Row, and an intimacy ensued which lasted till his death, if, indeed, one is entitled to describe as intimacy an intercourse which, as in the case of all
the rest of Lamb’s friends, consisted of pleasant visits on the one part, and a gratified and grateful reception of them on the other, which seemed intended to intimate that there was nothing he did not owe you, and was not willing to pay, in return for the dispensation you granted him from the ceremony of visiting you in return: for the Lambs rarely left home, and when they did, were never themselves till they got back again.

The foregoing remarks point at what I afterwards learned to consider as the leading and distinctive feature of Lamb’s intellectual character, and also that of his sister—at least at and after the time at which I first became acquainted with them. All their personal thoughts, feelings, and associations were so entirely centred in those of each other, that it was only by an almost painful effort they were allowed to wander elsewhere, even at the brief intervals claimed by that social intercourse which they nevertheless could not persuade themselves wholly to shun. They had been for so many years accustomed to look to each other alone for sympathy and support, that they could
scarcely believe these to exist for them apart from themselves;*—and the perpetual consciousness of this mutual failing, in a social point of view, and the perpetual sense of its results upon their intellectual characters respectively, gave to both of them an absent and embarrassed air—always excepting when they sought and found temporary shelter from it in that profuse and somewhat indiscriminate hospitality, which, at this period, marked their simple home at Islington.

It is true they were, perhaps, never so happy as when surrounded by those friends and acquaintance who sought them at their own house. But this was at best a happiness little suited to the intellectual habits and temperament of either, and one, therefore, for which they paid much more than it was worth to them—so much more that they, not long after the period to which I am now alluding, sought refuge from the evil in a remedy that was worse than the disease. Always in extremes, and being now able, by

* See at p. 73 an explanation of the terrible reason for this—which, at the time these pages were written, had not been disclosed to the world.

his retirement from the India House, to fix their whereabout wherever they pleased, they fled from the too-exciting scenes of the great metropolis to the (for them) anything but “populous solitude” of that country life for which they were equally unfitted and unprepared.

What I have further to say of Charles Lamb, I shall leave nearly in the words in which it was recorded shortly after his death in 1834, while the impression of his remarkable intellectual qualities, and their results upon his personal character, were fresh in my recollection, and therefore likely to be less unworthy the reader’s attention than anything I could now substitute in their place.

What immediately follows, however, was written during Lamb’s lifetime; and as it will serve as a sort of personal introduction of him to the reader, I shall give it precedence of those Recollections which were not written till after his death. The following descriptive passages are part of what was intended to form a group of Sketches from Real Life, the imaginary scene of which was the Athenæum Club House.


Observe that diminutive figure, all in black (the head and face only half visible from beneath the penthouse of an ill-fitting hat), that has just entered the splendid and luxurious apartment in which we are taking our sketches, and is looking about with an air of odd perplexity, half timid, half bold, as if—
“Wondering how the devil it got there.”
And well it may, for its owner is as little dependent on modern luxury for his comforts, as if he had just been disinterred by the genius of
Bulwer from the oblivion of Pompeii.

Doubtless in passing down Waterloo-place, from his friend Moxon’s, with the intention of losing his way home to Islington through St. James’s Park, the statue of the Goddess of Wisdom over our portico attracted his eye, and his thoughts naturally jumped to the conclusion that the temple over which her effigy presides can be devoted to no less dignified purposes than she was wont to patronise in those times of which this “ignorant present” is apt to make such little use. And that such a temple should be other than open to all comers, our exquisite “modern
antique” could not for an instant doubt. In therefore he walks, unmolested by the liveried menials of the vestibule; for “there’s a divinity doth hedge” a man of genius, that makes his person in some sort sacred, even to the wearer of a laced coat, be he lacquey or lord. During the gaping wonder of the waiters at his advent, he has mounted the staircase,—glancing with a look of momentary surprise at the undraped figure of the goddess of Love and Beauty, which strikes him as a novel but by no means inappropriate introduction into a Temple of Wisdom; and entering the first door that seems likely to lead towards the penetralia of the place, behold him among us! . . . . It is odd how appearances sometimes belie themselves. If all here present were compelled to guess the worldly calling of the object of our attention, nine out of ten would pronounce for his being a half-starved country curate, who has wandered up to the metropolis on a week’s leave of absence, to make his fortune, and immortalize his name, by a volume of MS. sermons. And the rusty suit of black, the knee breeches met by high gaiters of the same,
and the contemplative gravity of the face and air, aid the delusion—a delusion which, those who know him cannot think of without a smile, and which he himself would hail the announcement of with a shout of laughter, of a kind seldom heard within these refined and fastidious walls;—laughter, however, in which there would be no touch of derision at the association that called it forth.

But see—he has removed his hat; and all vestige of the vestry has disappeared; for the operation has revealed a countenance, the traits and characteristics of which never yet appertained to the follower of any exclusive profession or calling—not even the sacred one which has for its object to lift men from the commerce of earth to that of immortality.

If read aright, there is not a finer countenance extant than that of Charles Lamb, nor one that more exquisitely and eloquently shadows forth the soul and spirit that give it life and speech. It is a face that would have taxed the genius of Titian himself to set it forth truly—so varied and almost contradictory, in appearance, are the evidences and intimations it includes. There are lines of the loftiest thought and the purest wis-
dom, intersected by others traced by the hand of Folly herself while sporting there in her cap and bells. There is the deepest and the gentlest love for mankind, inextricably mingled with marks of the most bitter and biting contempt for men and their ways and works. There is the far-darting glance of high and searching intellect, quelled and as it were hoodwinked, by an ever-present sense of the petty and peddling limits of even its widest and wildest range. There is the profound melancholy of the poetic temperament, brooding fondly over the imagination of what it feels to be unattainable,—mixed into a “chance medley” of all sorts of quips, quibbles, and quiddities of the brain. There is the gravity of the sage contending with the gaiety of the humorist; the pride and solemnity of the philosophic observer of human nature, melting into the innocent playfulness of the child, and the mad fun of the schoolboy. In short, to sum up the case as paradoxically as we have been tempted, from the peculiar nature of the theme, to commence and carry it on, Charles Lamb’s
face, like his other attributes, amounts to a “contradiction in terms,”—with this special qualification in every particular of the case, that the contradiction is invariably in favour of right, of truth, and of good, wherever these are brought into momentary contention with their opposites.

So much for a sketch that, in its accessories at least, is in some sort a “fancy” one. The details of the description which follows refer to a period immediately preceding his death.

I do not know whether Lamb had any oriental blood in his veins; but certainly the most marked complexional characteristic of his head was a Jewish look, which pervaded every portion of it, even to the sallow and uniform complexion, and the black and crisp hair standing off loosely from the head, as if every single hair were independent of the rest. The nose, too, was large and slightly hooked, and the chin rounded and elevated to correspond. There was altogether a Rabbinical look about Lamb’s head which was at once striking and impressive.


Thus much of form chiefly. In point of intellectual character and expression, a finer face was never seen, nor one more fully, however vaguely, corresponding with the mind whose features it interpreted. There was the gravity usually engendered by a life passed in book-learning, without the slightest tinge of that assumption and affectation which almost always attend the gravity so engendered; the intensity and elevation of general expression that mark high genius, without any of its pretension and its oddity; the sadness waiting on fruitless thoughts and baffled aspirations, but no evidences of that spirit of scorning and contempt which these are apt to engender. Above all, there was a pervading sweetness and gentleness which went straight to the heart of every one who looked on it; and not the less so, perhaps, that it bore about it an air, a something, seeming to tell that it was, not put on—for nothing would be more unjust than to tax Lamb with assuming anything, even a virtue, which he did not possess—but preserved and persevered in, spite of opposing and
contradictory feelings within, that struggled in vain for mastery. It was a thing to remind you of that painful smile which bodily disease and agony will sometimes put on, to conceal their sufferings from the observation of those they love.

I feel it a very difficult and delicate task to speak of this peculiar feature of Lamb’s physiognomy; and the more so that, from never having seen it noted and observed by others of his friends, I am by no means sure of meeting with an accordance in the opinions, or rather the feelings, of those who knew him as well, or even better than I did. But I am sure that the peculiarity I speak of was there, and therefore venture to allude to it for a moment longer, with a view to its apparent explanation. The truth then is, that Lamb was what is by no means so uncommon or so contradictory a character as the unobservant may deem it: he was a gentle, amiable, and tender-hearted misanthrope. He hated and despised men with his mind and judgment, in proportion as (and precisely because) he loved and yearned towards them in his
heart; and individually, he loved those best whom everybody else hated, and for the very reasons for which others hated them. He generally through life had two or three especial pets, who were always the most disagreeable people in the world—to the world. To be taken into Lamb’s favour and protection you had only to get discarded, defamed, and shunned by everybody else; and if you deserved this treatment, so much the better! If I may venture so to express myself, there was in Lamb’s eyes a sort of sacredness in sin, on account of its sure ill consequences to the sinner; and he seemed to open his arms and his heart to the rejected and reviled of mankind in a spirit kindred at least with that of the Deity.

Returning to my description of Lamb’s personal appearance,—his head might have belonged to a full-sized person, but it was set upon a figure so petite that it took an appearance of inappropriate largeness by comparison. This was the only striking peculiarity in the ensemble of his figure; in other respects it was pleasing and well-formed, but so slight and delicate as to bear
the appearance of extreme spareness, as if of a man air-fed, instead of one rejoicing in a proverbial predilection for “roast pig.” The only defect of his figure was that the legs were too slight even for the slight body.

Lamb had laid aside his snuff-coloured suit long before I knew him, and was never seen in anything but a suit of black, with knee-breeches and gaiters, and black worsted or silk stockings. Probably he was induced to admit this innovation by a sort of compromise with his affection for the colour of other years; for though his dress was, by courtesy, “black,” he always contrived that it should exist in a condition of rusty brown.

The only way in which I can account for Lamb’s having been faithless to his former colour, after having stood by it through a daily ordeal, for twenty years, at the Long Room of the India House, is, that he was placarded out of it by his dear friend Wordsworth’s description of the personal appearance of his ideal of a poet, which can scarcely have been drawn from any but Lamb himself—so exact is the likeness in several of its
leading features.* Now, Lamb did not like to be taken for a poet, nor, indeed, for anything else in particular; so latterly he made a point of dressing so as to be taken, by ninety-nine people out of every hundred who looked upon him, for a Methodist preacher—which was just the very last he was like, or would like to be taken for! This was one of his little wilful contradictions.

* See “A Poet’s Epitaph,” in the Lyrical Ballads.

But who is he with modest looks,
And clad in homely russet brown,
Who murmurs near the running brooks
A music sweeter than their own?
He is retired as noon-tide dew,
Or fountain in a noon-day grove;
And you must love him ere to you
He will seem worthy of your love.