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- Charles Lamb - 5/25 -


affection which Mary had a right to claim. Poor Mary! my mother never understood her right." In another place (after he had been unburdening his heart to Coleridge), he writes cautiously, "_Since_ this has happened,"-- the death of his mother,--"he has been very kind and brotherly; but I fear for his mind. He has taken his ease in the world, and is not fit to struggle with difficulties. Thank God, I can unconnect myself with him, and shall manage my father's moneys myself, if I take charge of Daddy, which poor John has not hinted a wish at any future time to share with me." Mary herself, when she was recovering, said that "she knew she must go to Bethlehem for life; that one of her brothers would have it so; the other would not wish it, but would be obliged to go with the stream."

At this time, reckoning up their several means of living, Charles Lamb and his father had together an income of one hundred and seventy or one hundred and eighty pounds; out of which, he says, "we can spare fifty or sixty pounds at least for Mary whilst she stays in an asylum. If I and my father and an old maid-servant can't live, and live comfortably, on one hundred and thirty or one hundred and twenty pounds a year, we ought to burn by slow fires. I almost would, so that Mary might not go into a hospital." She was then recovering her health; had become serene and cheerful; and Charles was passionately desirous that, after a short residence in the lunatic establishment wherein she then was, she should return home: "But the surviving members of her family" (these are Sir Thomas Talfourd's words), "especially John, who enjoyed a fair income from the South Sea House, opposed her discharge." Charles, however, ultimately succeeded in his pious desire, upon entering into a solemn undertaking to take care of his sister thereafter.

He provided a lodging for her at Hackney, and spent all his Sundays and holidays with her. I never heard of John Lamb having contributed anything, in money or otherwise, cowards the support of his deranged sister, or to assist his young struggling brother.

Soon after this time Charles took his sister Mary to live with himself entirely. Whenever the approach of one of her fits of insanity was announced by some irritability or change of manner, he would take her, under his arm, to Hoxton Asylum. It was very afflicting to encounter the young brother and his sister walking together (weeping together) on this painful errand; Mary herself, although sad, very conscious of the necessity for temporary separation from her only friend. They used to carry a strait jacket with them.

In the latter days of his father's life, Charles must have had an uncomfortable home. "I go home at night overwearied, quite faint, and then to cards with my father, who will not let me enjoy a meal in peace. After repeated games at cribbage" (he is writing to Coleridge), "I have got my father's leave to write; with difficulty got it: for when I expostulated about playing any more, he replied, 'If you won't play with me, you might as well not come home at all.' The argument was unanswerable, and I set to afresh."

Soon after this, the father, who at last had become entirely imbecile, died; and the pension which he had received from Mr. Salt, the old bencher, ceased. The aunt, who had been taken for a short time to the house of a rich relation, but had been sent back, also died in the following month. "My poor old aunt" (Chailes writes), "who was the kindest creature to me when I was at school, and used to bring me good things; when I, schoolboy-like, used to be ashamed to see her come, and open her apron, and bring out her basin with some nice thing which she had saved for me; the good old creature is now lying on her death-bed. She says, poor thing, she is glad she has come home to die with me. I was always her favorite." Thus Charles was left to his own poor resources (scarcely, if at all, exceeding one hundred pounds a year); and these remained very small for some considerable time. His writings were not calculated to attract immediate popularity, and the increase of his salary at the India House was slow. Even in 1809 (November), almost fifteen years later, the addition of twenty pounds a year, which comes to him on the resignation of a clerk in the India House, is very important, and is the subject of a joyful remark by his sister Mary.

The impression made, in the first instance, on Charles Lamb, by the terrible death of his mother, cannot be explained in any condensed manner. His mind, short of insanity, seems to have been utterly upset. He had been fond of poetry to excess; almost all his leisure hours seemed to have been devoted to the books of poets and religious writers, to the composition of poetry, and to criticising various writers in verse. But afterwards, in his distress, he requests Coleridge to "mention nothing of poetry. I have destroyed every vestige of past vanities of that kind. Never send me a book, I charge you. I am wedded" (he adds) "to the fortunes of my sister and my poor old father." At another time he writes, "On the dreadful day I preserved a tranquillity, not of despair." Some persons coming into the "house of misery," and persuading him to take some food, he says, "In an agony of emotion, I found my way mechanically into the adjoining room, and fell on my knees by the side of her coffin, asking forgiveness of Heaven, and sometimes of her, for forgetting her so soon."

A few days later, he says to his friend, "You are the only correspondent, and, I might add, the only friend I have in the world. I go nowhere and see no acquaintance." At this time he gave away all Coleridge's letters, burned all his own poetry, all the numerous poetical extracts he had made, and the little journal of "My foolish passion, which I had a long time kept." Subsequently, when he becomes better, he writes again to his friend, "Correspondence with you has roused me a little from my lethargy, and made me conscious of my existence."

Charles was now entirely alone with his sister. She was the only object between him and God, and out of this misery and desolation sprang that wonderful love between brother and sister, which has no parallel in history. Neither would allow any stranger to partake of the close affection that seemed to be solely the other's right. Doubts have existed whether Charles Lamb ever gave up for the sake of Mary the one real attachment of his youth. It has been considered somewhat probable that Alice W. was an imaginary being--some Celia, or Campaspe, or Lindamira; that she was in effect one of those visions which float over us when we escape from childhood. But it may have been a real love, driven deeper into the heart, and torn out for another love, more holy and as pure: for he was capable of a grand sacrifice. No one will, perhaps, ever ascertain the truth precisely. It must remain undiscovered--magnified by the mist of uncertainty--like those Hesperian Gardens which inspired the veises of poets, but are still surrounded by fable.

For my own part, I am persuaded that the attachment was real. He says that his sister would often "lend an ear to his desponding, love-sick lay." After he himself had been in a lunatic asylum, he writes to Coleridge, that his "head ran upon him, in his madness, as much almost as on another person, _who was the more immediate cause of my frenzy._" Later in the year he burned the "little journal of his foolish passion;" and, when writing to his friend on the subject of his love sonnets, he says, "It is a passion of which I retain nothing." It is clear, I think, that it was love for a real person, however transient it may have been. But the fact, whether true or false, is inexpressibly unimportant. It could not add to his stature: it could not diminish it. His whole life is acted; and in it are numerous other things which substantially raise and honor him. The ashes (if ashes there were) are cold. His struggles and pains, and hopes and visions, are over. All lie, diffused, intermingled in that vast Space which has No Name; like the winds and light of yesterday, which came and gave pleasure for a moment, and now have changed and left us, forever.

In contrast with this apocryphal attachment stands out his deep and unalterable love for his sister Mary. "God love her," he says; "may we two never love each other less." They never did. Their affection continued throughout life, without interruption; without a cloud, except such as rose from the fluctuations of her health. It is said that a woman rises or falls with the arm on which she leans. In this case, Mary Lamb at all times had a safe support; an arm that never shook nor wavered, but kept its elevation, faithful and firm throughout life.

It is difficult to explain fully the great love of Charles for his sister, except in his own words. Whenever her name occurs in the correspondence, the tone is always the same; always tender; without abatement, without change. "I am a fool" (he writes) "bereft of her cooperation. I am used to look up to her in the least and biggest perplexities. To say all that I find her, would be more than I think anybody could possibly understand. She is older, wiser, and better than I am; and all my wretched imperfections I cover to myself, by resolutely thinking on her goodness. She would share life and death with me." This (to anticipate) was written in 1805, when she was suffering from one of her attacks of illness. After she became better, he became better also, and opened his heart to the pleasures and objects around him. It was open at all times to want, and sickness, and wretchedness, and generally to the friendly voices and homely realities that rose up and surrounded him in his daily walk through life.

During all his years he was encircled by groups of loving friends. There were no others habitually round him. It is reported of some person that he had not merit enough to create a foe. In Lamb's case, I suppose, he did not possess that peculiar merit; for he lived and died without an enemy.

CHAPTER III.

_Jem White.--Coleridge.--Lamb's Inspiration.--Early Letters.--Poem published.--Charles Lloyd.--Liking for Burns, &c.--Quakerism.--Robert Southey.--Southey and Coleridge.--Antijacobin.--Rosamond Gray.-George Dyer.-Manning.--Mary's Illnesses.--Migrations.--Hester Savory._

After the pain arising from the deaths of his parents had somewhat subsided, and his sorrow, exhausting itself in the usual manner, had given way to calm, the story of Lamb becomes mainly an account of his intercourse with society. He was surrounded, during his somewhat monotonous career, by affectionate and admiring friends, who helped to bring out his rare qualities, who stimulated his genius, and who are in fact interwoven with his own history.

One of the earliest of these was his schoolfellow James (familiarly Jem) White. This youth, who at the beginning of this period was his most frequent companion, had great cleverness and abundant animal spirits, under the influence of which he had produced a small volume, entitled "Original Letters of Sir John Falstaff and his Friends." These letters were ingenious imitations of the style and tone of thought of the celebrated Shakespearian knight and his familiars. Beyond this merit they are, perhaps, not sufficiently full of that enduring matter which is intended for posterity. Nevertheless they contain some good and a few excellent things. The letter of Davy (Justice Shallow's servant) giving an account to his master of the death of poor Abram Slender is very touching. Slender dies from mere love of sweet Ann Page; "Master Abram is dead; gone, your worship. A' sang his soul and body quite away. A' turned like the latter end of a lover's lute."

White's book was published in 1796; and one of the early copies was sold at the Roxburgh sale for five guineas. Is it possible that the imitations could have been mistaken for originals? Afterwards, the little book could be picked up for eighteenpence; even for sixpence. It was always a great favorite with Lamb. He reviewed it, after White's death, in the _Examiner_. Lamb's friendship and sympathy in taste with White induced him to attach greater value to this book than it was, perhaps, strictly


Charles Lamb - 5/25

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