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- Charles Lamb - 10/25 -

himself of fifteen pounds; is composing Latin letters; and in other respects deporting himself like a "gentleman who lives at home at ease;" not like a poor clerk, obliged to husband his small means, and to deny himself the cheap luxury of books that he had long coveted. "Do you remember" (his sister says to him, in the Essay on "Old China") "the brown suit that grew so threadbare, all because of that folio of Beaumont and Fletcher that you dragged home late at night from Barker's, in Covent Garden; when you set off near ten o'clock, on Saturday night, from Islington, fearing you should be too late; and when you lugged it home, wishing it was twice as cumbersome," &c.

These realities of poverty, very imperfectly covered over by words of fiction, are very touching. It is deeply interesting, that Essay, where the rare enjoyments of a poor scholar are brought into contrast and relief with the indifference that grows upon him when his increased income enables him to acquire any objects he pleases. Those things are no longer distinguished as "enjoyments" which are not purchased by a sacrifice. "A purchase is but a purchase now. Formerly it used to be a triumph. A thing was worth buying when we felt the money that we paid for it."

(1804.) The intimacy of that extraordinary man, William Hazlitt, was the great gain of Lamb at this period of his life. If Lamb's youngest and tenderest reverence was given to Coleridge, Hazlitt's intellect must also have commanded his later permanent respect. Without the imagination and extreme facility of Coleridge, he had almost as much subtlety and far more steadfastness of mind. Perhaps this steadfastness remained sometimes until it took the color of obstinacy; but, as in the case of his constancy to the first Napoleon, it was obstinacy riveted and made firm by some concurring respect. I do not know that Hazlitt had the more affectionate nature of the two; but assuredly he was less tossed about and his sight less obscured by floating fancies and vast changing projects (_muscae volitantes_) than the other. To the one are ascribed fierce and envious passions; coarse thoughts and habits--(he has indeed been crowned by defamation); whilst to Coleridge have been awarded reputation and glory, and praise from a thousand tongues. To secure justice we must wait for unbiassed posterity.

I meet, at present, with few persons who recollect much of Hazlitt. Some profess to have heard nothing of him except his prejudices and violence; but his prejudices were few, and his violence (if violence he had) was of very rare occurrence. He was extremely patient, indeed, although earnest when discussing points in politics, respecting which he held very strong and decided opinions. But he circulated his thoughts on many other subjects, whereon he ought not to have excited offence or opposition. He wrote (and he wrote well) upon many things lying far beyond the limits of politics. To use his own words, "I have at least glanced over a number of subjects--painting, poetry, prose, plays, politics, parliamentary speakers, metaphysical lore, books, men, and things." This list, extensive as it is, does not specify very precisely all the subjects on which he wrote. His thoughts range over the literature of Elizabeth and James's times, and of the time of Charles II.; over a large portion of modern literature; over the distinguishing character of men, their peculiarities of mind and manners; over the wonders of poetry, the subtleties of metaphysics, and the luminous regions of art. In painting, his criticisms (it is prettily said by Leigh Hunt) cast a light upon the subject like the glory reflected "from a painted window." I myself have, in my library, eighteen volumes of Hazlitt's works, and I do not possess all that he published. Besides being an original thinker, Hazlitt excelled in conversation. He was, moreover, a very temperate liver: yet his enemies proclaimed to the world that he was wanting even in sobriety. During the thirteen years that I knew him intimately, and (at certain seasons) saw him almost every day, I know that he drank nothing stronger than water; except tea, indeed, in which he indulged in the morning. Had he been as temperate in his political views as in his cups, he would have escaped the slander that pursued him through life.

The great intimacy between these two distinguished writers, Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt (for they had known each other before), seems to have commenced in a singular manner. They were one day at Godwin's, when "a fierce dispute was going on between Holcroft and Coleridge, as to which was best, 'Man as he was, or Man as he is to be.' 'Give me,' says Lamb, 'man as he is _not_ to be.'" "This was the beginning" (Hazlitt says,) "of a friendship which, I believe, still continues." Hazlitt married in 1805, and his wife soon became familiar with Mary Lamb. Indeed, Charles and his sister more than once visited the Hazlitts, who at that time lived at Winterslow, near Salisbury Plain, and enjoyed their visits greatly, walking from eight to twenty miles a day, and seeing Wilton, Stonehenge, and the other (to them unaccustomed) sights of the country. "The quiet, lazy, delicious month" passed there is referred to in one of Miss Lamb's pleasant letters. And the acquaintance soon deepened into friendship. Whatever good will was exhibited by Hazlitt (and there was much) is repaid by Lamb in his letter to Southey, published in the "London Magazine" (October, 1823), wherein he places on record his pride and admiration of his friend. "So far from being ashamed of the intimacy" (he says), "it is my boast that I was able, for so many years, to have preserved it entire; and I think I shall go to my grave without finding or expecting to find such another companion."

Lamb's respect for men and things did not depend on repute. His fondness for old books seldom (never, perhaps, except in the single case of the Duchess of Newcastle) deluded him into a respect for old books which were without merit. He required that excellence should be combined with antiquity. A great name was generally to him simply a great name; no more. If it had lasted through centuries, indeed, as in the case of Michael Angelo, then he admitted that "a great name implied greatness." He did not think that greatness lay in the "thews and sinews," or in the bulk alone. When Nelson was walking on the quay at Yarmouth, the mob cried out in derision, "What! make that little fellow a captain!" Lamb thought otherwise; and in regret for the death of that great seaman, he says, "I have followed him ever since I saw him walking in Pall Mall, _looking just as a hero should look_" (_i.e._, simply). "He was the only pretence of a great man we had." The large stage blusterer and ostentatious drawcansir were never, in Lamb's estimation, models for heroes. In the case of the first Napoleon also, he writes, "He is a fine fellow, as my barber says; and I should not mind standing bareheaded at his table to do him service in his fall." This was in August, 1815.

The famous "Ode to Tobacco" was written in 1805, and the pretty stories founded on the plays of Shakespeare were composed or translated about the year 1806; Lamb taking the tragic, and his sister the other share of the version. These tales were to produce about sixty pounds; to them a sum which was most important, for he and Mary at that time hailed the addition of twenty pounds to his salary (on the retirement of an elder clerk) as a grand addition to their comforts.

Charles was at this period (February, 1806) at work upon a farce, to be called "Mr. H.;" from which he says, "if it has a 'good run' I shall get two hundred pounds, and I hope one hundred pounds for the copyright." "Mr. H." (which rested solely upon the absurdity of a name, which after all was not irresistibly absurd) was accepted at the theatre, but unfortunately it had _not_ "a good run." It failed, not quite undeservedly perhaps, for (although it has since had some success in America) there was not much probability of its prosperity in London. It was acted once (10th December, 1806), and was announced for repetition on the following evening, but was withdrawn. Lamb's courage and good humor did not fail. He joked about it to Wordsworth, said that he had many fears about it, and admitted that "John Bull required solider fare than a bare letter." As he says, in his letter to the poet, "a hundred hisses (hang the word, I write it like kisses) outweigh a thousand claps. The former come more directly from the heart. Well" (he adds), "it is withdrawn, and there's an end."

In 1807 were published "Specimens of Dramatic Poets contemporary with Shakespeare;" and these made Lamb known as a man conversant with our old English literature, and helped mainly to direct the taste of the public to those fine writers. The book brought repute (perhaps a little money) to him. Soon afterwards he published "The Adventures of Ulysses," which was intended to be an introduction to the reading of "Telemachus," always a popular book. These "adventures" were derived from Chapman's "Translation of Homer," of which Lamb says, "Chapman is divine; and my abridgment has not, I hope, quite emptied him of his divinity."

In or about 1808 Miss Lamb's pretty little stories called "Mrs. Leicester's School" (to which Charles contributed three tales) were published; and soon afterwards a small book entitled "Poetry for Children," being a joint publication by brother and sister, came out. "It was done by me and Mary in the last six months" (January, 1809). It does not appear to what extent, if at all, it added to the poor clerk's means.

In the same year (as Miss Lamb writes in December, 1808), Charles was invited by Tom Sheridan to write some scenes in a speaking Pantomime; the other parts of which (the eloquence not of words) had been already manufactured by Tom and his more celebrated father, Richard Brinsley. Lamb and Tom Sheridan had been, it seems, communicative over a bottle of claret, when an agreement for the above purpose was entered into between them. This was subsequently carried into effect, and a drama was composed. This drama, still extant in the British Museum, in Lamb's own writing, appears to be a species of comic opera, the scene of which is laid in Gibraltar, but is without a name. I have not seen it, but speak upon the report of others.

In 1809 Lamb moved once more into the Temple, now to the top story of No. 4 Inner Temple Lane, "where the household gods are slow to come, but where I mean to live and die" (he says). From this place (since pulled down and rebuilt) he writes to Manning, who is in China, "Come, and bring any of your friends the Mandarins with you. My best room commands a court, in which there are trees and a pump, the water of which is excellent cold-- with brandy; and not very insipid without." He sends Manning some of his little books, to give him "some idea of European literature." It is in this letter (January, 1810) that he speaks of Braham and his singing, which I have elsewhere alluded to; of Kate with nine stars ********* ("though she is but one"); of his book (for children) "on titles of honor," exemplifying the eleven gradations, by which Mr. C. Lamb rises in succession to be Baron, Marquis, Duke, and Emperor Lamb, and finally Pope Innocent, and other lively matters fit to solace an English mathematician self-banished to China.

In July, 1810, an abstinence from all spirituous liquors took place. Lamb says that his sister has "taken to water like a hungry otter," whilst he "limps after her" for virtue's sake; but he is "full of cramps and rheumatism, and cold internally, so that fire don't warm him." It is scarcely necessary to state that the period of entire abstinence was very transient.

A quarterly magazine, called "The Reflector," was published in the autumn of 1810, and contained Essays by Charles Lamb and several other writers. Amongst these are some of the best of Lamb's earlier writings--namely, the paper on Hogarth and that on the Tragedies of Shakespeare. It is singular that these two Essays, which are as fine as anything of a similar nature in English criticism, should have been almost unnoticed (undiscovered, except by literary friends) until the year 1818, when Lamb's works were collected and published. The grand passage on "Lear" has caused the Essay on the Shakespeare Tragedies to be well known. Less known is the Essay on Hogarth, although it is more elaborate and critical; the labor being quite necessary in this case, as the pretensions of Hogarth to the grand style had been denounced by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

In affluence of genius, in variety and exuberance of thought, there surely can exist little comparison between Reynolds and Hogarth. Reynolds was, indeed, the finest painter, especially the most superb colorist, of the English school. But Hogarth was the greatest inventor,--the greatest

Charles Lamb - 10/25

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