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- Charles Lamb - 21/25 -


beyond all other men whom I have met, essentially metropolitan. He loved "the sweet security of streets," as he says: "I would set up my tabernacle there."

In the spring of 1834, Coleridge's health began to decline. Charles had written to him (in reply) on the 14th April, at which time his friend had been evidently unwell; for Lamb says that he is glad to see that he could write so long a letter. He was indeed very ill; and no further personal intercourse (I believe) took place between Charles and his old schoolfellow. Coleridge lay ill for months; but his faculties seem to have survived his bodily decay. He died on the 25th July, 1834; yet on the 5th of that month he was able to discourse with his nephew on Dryden and Barrow, on Lord Brook, and Fielding, and Richardson, without any apparent diminution of judgment. Even on the 10th (a fortnight only before his death) there was no symptom of speedy dissolution: he then said, "The scenes of my early life have stolen into my mind like breezes blown from the Spice Islands." Charles's sorrow was unceasing. "He was my fifty years' old friend" (he says) "without a dissension. I cannot think without an ineffectual reference to him." Lamb's frequent exclamations, "Coleridge is dead! Coleridge is dead!" have been already noticed.

And now the figures of other old friends of Charles Lamb, gradually (one by one), slip out of sight. Still, in his later letters are to be found glimpses of Wordsworth and Southey, of Rogers and Hood, of Cary (with whom his intimacy increases); especially may be noted Miss Isola, whom he tenderly regarded, and after whose marriage (then left more alone) he retreats to his last retreat, in Church Street, Edmonton.

From details let us escape into a more general narrative. The latest facts need not be painfully enumerated. There is little left, indeed, to particularize. Mary's health fluctuates, perhaps, more frequently than heretofore. At one time she is well and happy; at another her mind becomes turbid, and she is then sheltered, as usual, under her brother's care. The last Essays of Elia are published;--friends visit him;--and he occasionally visits them in London. He dines with Talfourd and Cary. The sparks which are brought out are as bright as ever, although the splendor is not so frequent. Apparently the bodily strength, never great, but sufficient to move him pleasantly throughout life, seemed to flag a little. Yet he walks as usual. He and his sister "scramble through the Inferno:" (as he says to Gary), "Mary's chief pride in it was, that she should some day brag of it to you." Then he and Mary became very poorly. He writes, "We have had a sick child, sleeping, or not sleeping, next to me, with a pasteboard partition between, who killed my sleep. My bedfellows are Cough and Cramp: we sleep three in a bed. Don't come yet to this house of pest and age." This is in 1833. At the end of that year (in December) he writes (once more humorously) to Rogers, expressing, amongst other things, his love for that fine artist, Stothard: "I met the dear old man, and it was sublime to see him sit, deaf, and enjoy all that was going on mirthful with the company. He reposed upon the many graceful and many fantastic images he had created." His last letter, written to Mrs. Dyer on the day after his fall, was an effort to recover a book of Mr. Cary, which had been mislaid or lost, so anxious was he always that every man should have his own.

In December, 1834, the history of Charles Lamb comes suddenly to a close. He had all along had a troubled day: now came the night. His spirits had previously been tolerably cheerful; reading and conversing, as heretofore, with his friends, on subjects that were familiar to him. There was little manifest alteration or falling off in his condition of mind or body. He took his morning walks as usual. One day he stumbled against a stone, and fell. His face was slightly wounded; but no fatal (or even alarming) consequence was foreboded. Erysipelas, however, followed the wound, and his strength (never robust) was not sufficient to enable him to combat successfully that inflammatory and exhausting disease. He suffered no pain (I believe); and when the presence of a clergyman was suggested to him, he made no remark, but understood that his life was in danger; he was quite calm and collected, quite resigned. At last his voice began to fail, his perceptions became confused, and he sank gradually, very gradually, until the 27th of December, 1834; and then--he died! It was the fading away or disappearance of life, rather than a violent transit into another world.

He died at Edmonton; not, as has been supposed, at Enfield, to which place he never returned as to a place of residence, after he had once quitted it.

It is not true that he was ever deranged, or subjected to any restraint, shortly before his death. There never was the least symptom of mental disturbance in him after the time (1795-6) when he was placed for a few weeks in Hoxton Asylum, to allay a little nervous irritation. If it were necessary to confirm this assertion, which is known to me from personal observation and other incontrovertible evidence, I would adduce ten of his published letters (in 1833) and several in 1834; one of them bearing date only four days before his death. All these documents afford ample testimony of his clear good sense and kind heart, some of them, indeed, being tinged with his usual humor.

Charles Lamb was fifty-nine years old at his death; of the same age as Cromwell, between whom and himself there was of course no other similitude. A few years before, when he was about to be released from his wearisome toil at the India House, he said exultingly, that he was passing out of Time into Eternity. But now came the true Eternity; the old Eternity,--without change or limit; in which all men surrender their leisure, as well as their labor; when their sensations and infirmities (sometimes harassing enough) cease and are at rest. No more anxiety for the debtor; no more toil for the worker. The rich man's ambition, the poor man's pains, at last are over. _Hic Jacet_. That "forlorn" inscription is the universal epitaph. What a world of moral, what speculations, what pathetic wishes, and what terrible dreams, lie enshrouded in that one final issue, which we call--DEATH.

To him who never gave pain to a human being, whose genius yielded nothing but instruction and delight, was awarded a calm and easy death. No man, it is my belief, was ever loved or lamented more sincerely than Charles Lamb. His sister (his elder by a decade) survived him for the space of thirteen years.

By strict economy, without meanness; with much unpretending hospitality; with frequent gifts and lendings, and without any borrowing,--he accumulated, during his thirty-three years of constant labor, the moderate sum of two thousand pounds. No more. That was the sum, I believe, which was eventually shared amongst his legatees. His other riches were gathered together and deposited elsewhere; in the memory of those who loved him,-- and there were many of them,--or amongst others of our Anglo-Saxon race, whose minds he has helped to enrich and soften.

The property of Charles Lamb, or so much as might be wanted for the purpose, was by his will directed to be applied towards the maintenance and comfort of his sister; and, subject to this primary object, it was vested in trustees for the benefit of Miss Isola--Mrs. Moxon.

Mary Lamb's comforts were supplied, with anxiety and tenderness, throughout the thirteen years during which she survived her brother. I went to see her, after her brother's death; but her frequent illnesses did not render visits at all times welcome or feasible. She then resided in Alpha Road, Saint John's Wood, under the care of an experienced nurse. There was a twilight of consciousness in her,--scarcely more,--at times; so that perhaps the mercy of God saved her from full knowledge of her great loss. Charles, who had given up all his days for her protection and benefit,--who had fought the great battle of life so nobly,--left her "for that unknown and silent shore," where, it is hoped, the brother and sister will renew the love which once united them on earth, and made their lives holy. Mary Lamb died on the 2Oth May, 1847; and the brother and sister now lie near each other (in the same grave) in the churchyard of Edmonton, in Middlesex.

[1] This, with a small variation, is given in Mr. Thomas Moore's autobiography. I suppose I must have repeated it to him, and that he forgot the precise words.

[2] I fear that I have not, in all the foregoing instances, set forth with sufficient precision the grounds or premises upon which the jests were founded. There were, moreover, various other sayings of Lamb, which do not come into the above catalogue; as where--when enjoying a pipe with Dr. Parr, that Divine inquired how he came to acquire the love of smoking so much, he replied, "I toiled after it as some people do after virtue."-- When Godwin was expatiating on the benefit of unlimited freedom of thought, especially in matters of religion, Lamb, who did not like this, interrupted him by humming the little child's song of "Old Father Longlegs won't say his prayers," adding, violently, "_Throw him down stairs!_"--He consoles Mr. Crabbe Robinson, suffering under tedious rheumatism, by writing, "Your doctor seems to keep you under the long cure."--To Wordsworth, in order to explain that his friend A was in good health, he writes, "A is well; he is proof against weather, ingratitude, meat underdone, and every weapon of fate." The story of Lamb replying to some one, who insisted very strenuously on some uninteresting circumstances being "a matter of fact," by saying that _he_ was "a matter of lie" man, is like Leigh Hunt, who, in opposing the frequent confessions of "I'm in love," asserted, in a series of verses, that he was "In hate."--Charles hated noise, and fuss, and fine words, but never hated any person. Once, when he had said, "I hate Z," some one present remonstrated with him: "Why, you have never seen him." "No," replied Lamb, "certainly not; I never could hate any man that I have once seen."--Being asked how he felt when amongst the lakes and mountains of Cumberland, he replied that he was obliged to think of the Ham and Beef shop near Saint Martin's Lane; this was in order to bring down his thoughts from their almost too painful elevation to the sober regions of every-day life.

In the foregoing little history, I have set forth such facts as tend, in my opinion, to illustrate my friend's character. One anecdote I have omitted, and it should not be forgotten. Lamb, one day, encountered a small urchin loaded with a too heavy package of grocery. It caused him to tremble and stop. Charles inquired where he was going, took (although weak) the load upon his own shoulder, and managed to carry it to Islington, the place of destination. Finding that the purchaser of the grocery was a female, he went with the urchin before her, and expressed a hope that she would intercede with the poor boy's master, in order to prevent his being overweighted in future. "Sir," said the dame, after the manner of Tisiphone, frowning upon him, "I buy my sugar, and have nothing to do with the man's manner of sending it." Lamb at once perceived the character of the purchaser, and taking off his hat, said, humbly, "Then I hope, ma'am, you'll give me a drink of small beer." This was of course refused. He afterwards called upon the grocer, on the boy's behalf--with what effect I do not know.

POSTSCRIPT.

I have thus told, as far as my ability permits, the story of the life of Charles Lamb.

I have not ventured to deduce any formidable moral from it. Like Lamb himself, I have great dislike to ostentatious precepts and impertinent lessons. Facts themselves should disclose their own virtues. A man who is able to benefit by a lesson will, no doubt, discover it, under any husk or disguise, before it is stripped and laid bare--to the kernel.

Besides, too much teaching may disagree with the reader. It is apt to


Charles Lamb - 21/25

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