Page images
PDF
EPUB

When mother Autumn fills their beaks with corn,
Filched from the careless Amalthea's horn;
And how the woods berries and worms provide,
Without their pains, when earth has nought beside
To answer their small wants.
To view the graceful deer come tripping by,
Then stop and gaze, then turn, they know not why,
Like bashful younkers in society.
To mark the structure of a plant or treen

And all fair things of carth, how fair they be. In 1802 Lamb paid a visit to Coleridge at Keswick, and clambered up to the top of Skiddaw. Notwithstanding his partiality for a London life, he was deeply struck with the solitary grandeur and beauty of the lakes. • Fleet Street and the Strand,' he says, “are better places to live in for good and all than amidst Skiddaw. Still, I turn back to those great places where I wandered about participating in their greatness.' I could spend a year, two, three years among them, but I must have a prospect of seeing Fleet Street at the end of that time, or I should mope and pine away.' A second dramatic attempt was made by Lamb in 1804. This was a farce entitled “Mr. H.,' which was accepted by the proprietors of Drury Lane Theatre, and acted for one night; but so indifferently received, that it was never brought forward afterwards. “La saw that the case was hopeless, and consoled his friends with a century of puns for the wreck of his dramatic hopes. In 1807 he published a series of tales founded on the plays of Shakespeare, which he had written in conjunction with his sister, and in the following year appeared his ' Specimens of English Dramatic Poets who lived about the time of Shakespeare, & work evincing a thorough appreciation of the spirit of the old dramatists, and a fine critical taste in analysing their genius. Some of his poetical pieces were also composed about this time; but in these efforts Lamb barely indicated his powers, which were not fully displayed till the publication of his essays signed 'Elia,' originally printed in the 'London Magazine. In these his curious reading, nice observation, and poetical conceptions found a genial and befitting field.

* They are all,' says his biographer, Serjeant Talfourd, carefully elaborated; yet never were books written in a higher defiance to the conventional pomp of style. A sly hit, a happy pun, a humorous combination, lets the light into the intricacies of the subject, and supplies the place of ponderous sentences. Seeking his materials for the most part in the common paths of life—often in the humblesthe gives an importance to everything, and sheds a grace over all.' In 1825 Lamb was emancipated from the drudgery of his situation. as clerk in the India House, retiring with a handsome pension, which enabled him to enjoy the comforts, and many of the luxuries of life. In a letter to Wordsworth, he thus describes his sensations after his release: “I come home for EVER on Tuesday week. The incomprebensibleness of my condition overwhelmed me. It was like passing

[ocr errors]

from life into eternity. Every year to be as long as three; that is, to have three times as much real time—time that is my own-in it! I wandered about thinking I was happy, but feeling I was not. But that tumultuousness is passing off, and I begin to understand the nature of the gift. Holidays, even the annual month, were always uneasy joys, with their conscious fugitiveness, the craving after making the most of them. Now, when all is holiday, there are no holidays. I can sit at home, in rain or shine, without a restless impulse for walking. I I am daily steadying, and shall soon find it as natural to me to be my own master, as it has been irksome to have had a master.' He removed to a cottage near Islington, and in the following summer, went with his faithful sister and companion on a long visit to Enfield, which ultimately led to his giving up his cottage, and becoming a constant resident at that place. There he lived for about five years, delighting his friends with his correspondence and occasional visits to London, displaying his social racy humour and active benevolence.

In 1830 he committed to the press a small volume of poems, entitled Album Verses,' the gleanings of several years, and he occasionally sent a contribution to some literary periodical. In December 1834, whilst taking his daily walk on the London Road, he stumbled against a stone, fell, and slightly injured his face. The accident appeared trifling, but erysipelas in the face came on, and proved fatal on the 27th December 1834. He was buried in the churchyard at Edmonton, amidst the tears and regrets of a circle of warmly attached friends, and his memory was consecrated by a tribute from the muse of Wordsworth. Šis sister survived till May 20, 1847. A complete edition of Lamb's works was published by his friend Mr. Moxon, and his reputation is still on the increase. For this he is mainly indebted to his essays. We cannot class him among the favoured sons of Apollo, though in heart and feeling he might sit with the proudest. The peculiarities of his style were doubtless grafted upon him by his constant study and lifelong admiration of the old English writers

. Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger, Jeremy Taylor, Browne, Fuller, and others of the elder worthies (down to Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle), were his chosen companions. He knew all their fine sayings and noble thoughts; and, consulting his own heart after his hard day's plodding at the India House, at his quiet fireside (ere his reputation was established, and he came to be over-companied by social visitors), he invested his original thoughts and fancies, and drew up his curious analogies and speculations in a garb similar to that which his favourites wore. Then Lamb was essentially a townman-a true Londoner-fond as Johnson of Fleet Street and the Strand—a frequenter of the theatre, and atte.ched to social habits, courtesies, and observances. His acute powers of observation were constantly called into play, and his warm sympathies excited by the shifting scenes around him. His kindliness of nature, his whims,

puns, and prejudices, give a strong individuality to his writings; while in playful humour, critical taste, and choice expression, Charles Lamb may be considered among English essayists a genuine and original master. Mr Proctor (Barry Cornwall), who wrote a slight Memoir' of his friend in 1866, said he saw the essence of Lamb's genius in the facts that he wrote from his feelings, and that he loved old books and old times.

To Hester.
When maidens such as Hester die, Her parents held the Quaker rule,
Their place ye may not well supply, Which doth the human feeling cool;
Though ye among a thousand try, But she was trained in Nature's school;
With vain endeavour.

Nature had blest her.
A month or more she hath been dead, A waking eye, a prying mind,
Yet cannot I by force be led

A heart that stirs, is hard to bind,
To think upon the wormy bed

A hawk's keen sight ye cannot blind, And her together.

Ye could not Hester. A springy motion in her gait,

My sprightly neighbour! gone before A rising step, did indicate

To that unknown and silent shore, Of pride and joy no common rate, Shall we not meet, as heretofore, That flushed her spirit.

Some summer morning.

I know not by what name beside
I shall it call : if 'twas not pride,
It was a joy to that allied,

She did inherit.

When from thy cheerful eyes a ray
Hath struck a bliss upon the day,
A bliss that would not go away,

A sweet forewarning?

The Old Familiar Faces.
I have had playmates. I have had companions,
In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days;
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
I have been laughing. I have been carousing,
Drinking late, sitting late, with my bosom-cronies;
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
I loved a love once, fairest among women;
Closed are her doors on me, I must not see her;
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
I have a friend, a kinder friend has no man;
Like an ingrate I left my friend abruptly ;
Left him, to muse on the old familiar faces.
Ghost-like I paced round the haunts of my childhood;
Earth seemed a desert I was bound to traverse,
Seeking to find the old familiar faces.
Friend of my bosom, thou more than a brother,
Why wert not thou born in my father's dwelling?
So might we talk of the old familiar faces-
How some they have died, and some they have left me,
And some are taken from me; all are departed;
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

A Farewell to Tobacco..

May the Babylonish curse
Straight confound my stammering verse,
If I can a passage see
In this word-perplexity,
Or a fit expression find,
Or a language to my mind-
Still the phrase is wide or scant-
To take leave of thee, Great Plant!
Or in any terms relate
Half my low, or half my hate :
For I hate, yet love thee so,
That, whichever thing I shew,
The plain truth will seem to be
A constrained hyperbole,
And the passion to proceed
More from a mistress than a weed.

Brother of Bacchus, later born, The old world was sure forlorn Wanting thee, that aidest more The god's victories than before All his panthers, and the brawls Of his piping Bacchanals. These, as stale, we disallow, Or judge of thee meant; only thou His true Indiau conquest art; And, for ivy round his dart, The reformed god now weaves A finer thyrsus of thy leaves.

Scent to match thy rich perfume Chemic art did ne'er presume; Through her quaint alembic strain, None so sov'reign to the brain: Nature, that did in thee excel, Framed again 110 second smell. Roses, violets, but toys For the smaller sort of boys, Or for greener damsels meant; Thou art the only man y scent.

Sooty retainer to the vine, Bacchus' black servant, negro fine; Sorcerer, that mak'st us dote upon Thy begrimed complexion, And, for thy pernicious sake, More and greater oaths to break Taan reclaimed lovers take 'Gainst women: thou thy siege dost lay Much too in the female way, While thou suck'st the lab'ring breath Faster than kisses or than death.

Thou in such a cloud doth bind us,
That our worst foes cannot find us,
And ill-fortune, that would thwart us,
Shoots at rovers, shooting at us;
While each man, through thy heightning

steam,
Does like a smoking Etna seem,
And all about us does express-
Fancy and wit in richest dress-
A Sicilian fruitfulness.

Thou through such a mist dost shew us
That our best friends do not know us,
And, for those allowed features,
Due to reasonable creatures,
Liken'st us to fell Chimeras,
Morsters that, who see us, fear us;
Worse than Cerberus or Geryon,
Or, who first loved a cloud, Ixion.

Bacchus, we know, and we allow
His tipsy rites. But what art thou,
That but by reflex canst shew
What his deity can do,
As the false Egyptian spel
Aped the true Hebrew miracle ?
Some few vapours thou mayst raise,
The weak brain may serve to amaze,
But to the reins and nobler heart,
Canst nor life nor heat impart.

Stinking'st of the stinking kind, Filth of the mouth and fog of the mind, Africa, that brags her foison, Breeds no such prodigious poison ; Henbane, nightshade, both together, Hemlock, aconite

Nay, rather, Plant divine. of rarest virtue; Blisters on the tongue would hurt you. 'Twas but in a sort I blamed thee; None e'er prospered who defamed thee; Irony all, and feigned abuse, Such as perplexed lovers use At a need, when, in despair To paint forth their fairest fair, Or in part but to express That exceeding comeliness Which their fancies doth so strike, They borrow language of dislike; And, instead of Dearest Miss. Jewel, Honey, Sweetheart, Bliss, And those forms of old admiring, Call her Cockatrice and Siren, Basilisk, and all that's evil, Witch, Hyena, Mermaid, Devil, Ethiop, Wench, and Blackamoor, Monkey, Ape, and twenty more; Friendly Trait'ress, loving Foe Not that she is truly so, But no other way they know A contentment to express, Borders so upon excess, That they do not rightly wot Whether it be pain or not.

Or, as men, constrained to part

Ever after, nor will bate
With what's nearest to their heart, Any tittle of her state,
While their sorrow's at the height, Though a widow, or divorced,
Lose discrimination quite,

So I, from thy converse forced,
And their hasty wrath let'fall,

The old name and style retain, To appease their frantic gall,

A right Katherine of Spain; On the darling thing whatever,

And a seat, too, 'mongst the joys Whence they feel it death to sever, Of the blest Tobacco Boys; Though it be, as they, perforce,

Where though I, by sour physician,
Guiltless of the sad divorce.

Am debarred the full fruition
For I must-nor let it grieve thee, Of thy favours, I may catch
Friendliest of plants, that I must-leave Some collateral sweets, and snatch
thee;

Sidelong odours, that give life
For thy sake, Tobacco, I

Like glances from a neighbour's wife; Wonld do anything but die,

And still live in the by-places And but seek to extend my days,

And the suburbs of thy graces; Long enough to extend thy praise. And in thy borders take delight, But as she, who once hath been

An unconquered Canaanite. A king's consort, is a queen

The following are selections from Lamb's · Essays,'some of which, amidst their quaint fancies, contain more of the exquisite materials of poetry than his short occasional verses.

Dream-children-A Reverie. Children love to listen to stories about their elders, when they were children; to stretch their imagination to the conception of a traditionary great-uncle, or granddame, whom they never saw. It was in this spirit that my little ones crept about me the other evening to hear about their great-grandmother Field, who lived in a great house in Norfolk-a hundred times bigger than that in which they and papa livedwhich had been the scene---so at least it was generally believed in that part of the country of the tragic incidents which they had lately become familiar with from the ballad of the Children in the Wood. Certain it is that the whole story of the children and their cruel uncle was to be seen fairly carved ont in wood upon the chimney-piece of the great hall, the whole story down to the Robin Redbreasts, till a foolish rich person pulled it down to set up a marble one of modern invention in its stead, with no story upon it. Here Alice put out one of her dear mother's looks, too tender to be called upbraiding. Then I went on to say how religious and how good their great-grandmother Field was, how beloved and respected by everybody, though she was not indeed the mistress of this great house, but had only the charge of it and yet in some respects she might be said to be the mistress of it too--committed to her by the owner who preferred living in a newer and more fashionable mansion which he had purchased somewhere in the adjoining county! and still she lived in it in a manner as if it had been her own, and kept up the dignity of the great house in a sort while she lived, which afterwards came to decay, and was nearly pulled down, and all its old ornaments stripped and carried away to the owner's other house, where they were set up, and looked as awkward as if some one were to carry away the old tombs they had seen lately at the Abbey, and stick them up in Lady C.'s tawdry gilt drawing-room. Here John smiled, as much as to say, "That would be foolish indeed.' And then I told how, when she came to die, her funeral was attended by a concourse of all the poor, and some of the gentry too, of the neighbourhood for many miles round, to shew their respect for her memory, because she had been such a good and religious woman; so good, indeed, that she knew all the Psaltery by heart, ay, and a great part of the Testament besides. Here little Alice spread her hands. Then I told what a tall, upright, graceful person their great-grandmother Field once was, and how in her youth she was esteemed the best dancer. Here Alice's little right foot played an involuntary movement, till, upon my looking grave, it desisted--the best dancer, I was saya ing, in the county, till a cruel disease, called a cancer, came, and bowed her down with pain; but it could never bend her good spirits, or make them stoop, but they were still upright, because she was so good and religious. Then I told

« PreviousContinue »