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LAUREL-CROWNED LETTERS

CHARLES LAMB

It may well be that the "Essays of Elia" will be found to have kept
their perfume, and the LETTERS OF CHARLES LAMB to retain their old
sweet savor, when "Sartor Resartus" has about as many readers as
Bulwer's "Artificial Changeling," and nine tenths even of "Don Juan"
lie darkening under the same deep dust that covers the rarely troubled
pages of the "Secchia Rapita."

A.C. SWINBURNE

No assemblage of letters, parallel or kindred to that in the hands
of the reader, if we consider its width of range, the fruitful period
over which it stretches, and its typical character, has ever been
produced.

W.C. HAZLITT ON LAMB'S LETTERS.

THE BEST LETTERS OF CHARLES LAMB

Edited with an Introduction

BY EDWARD GILPIN JOHNSON

A.D. 1892.



CONTENTS


INTRODUCTION

LETTER
I. To Samuel Taylor Coleridge
II. To Coleridge
III. To Coleridge
IV. To Coleridge
V. To Coleridge
VI. To Coleridge
VII. To Coleridge
VIII. To Coleridge
IX. To Coleridge
X. To Coleridge
XI. To Coleridge
XII. To Coleridge
XIII. To Coleridge
XIV. To Coleridge
XV. To Robert Southey
XVI. To Southey
XVII. To Southey
XVIII. To Southey
XIX. To Thomas Manning
XX. To Coleridge
XXI. To Manning
XXII. To Coleridge
XXIII. To Manning
XXIV. To Manning
XXV. To Coleridge
XXVI. To Manning
XXVII. To Coleridge
XXVIII. To Coleridge
XXIX. To Manning
XXX. To Manning
XXXI. To Manning
XXXII. To Manning
XXXIII. To Coleridge
XXXIV. To Wordsworth
XXXV. To Wordsworth
XXXVI. To Manning
XXXVII. To Manning
XXXVIII. To Manning
XXXIX. To Coleridge
XL. To Manning
XLI. To Manning
XLII. To Manning
XLIII. To William Godwin
XLIV. To Manning
XLV. To Miss Wordsworth
XLVI. To Manning
XLVII. To Wordsworth
XLVIII. To Manning
XLIX. To Wordsworth
L. To Manning
LI. To Miss Wordsworth
LII. To Wordsworth
LIII. To Wordsworth
LIV. To Wordsworth
LV. To Wordsworth
LVI. To Southey
LVII. To Miss Hutchinson
LVIII. To Manning
LIX. To Manning
LX. To Wordsworth
LXI. To Wordsworth
LXII. To H. Dodwell
LXIII. To Mrs. Wordsworth
LXIV. To Wordsworth
LXV. To Manning
LXVI. To Miss Wordsworth
LXVII. To Coleridge
LXVIII. To Wordsworth
LXIX. To John Clarke
LXX. To Mr. Barren Field
LXXI. To Walter Wilson
LXXII. To Bernard Barton
LXXIII. To Miss Wordsworth
LXXIV. To Mr. and Mrs. Bruton
LXXV. To Bernard Barton
LXXVI. To Miss Hutchinson
LXXVII. To Bernard Barton
LXXVIII. To Mrs. Hazlitt
LXXIX. To Bernard Barton
LXXX. To Bernard Barton
LXXXI. To Bernard Barton
LXXXII. To Bernard Barton
LXXXIII. To Bernard Barton
LXXXIV. To Bernard Barton
LXXXV. To Bernard Barton
LXXXVI. To Wordsworth
LXXXVII. To Bernard Barton
LXXXVIII. To Bernard Barton
LXXXIX. To Bernard Barton
XC. To Southey
XCI. To Bernard Barton
XCII. To J.B. Dibdin
XCIII. To Henry Crabb Robinson
XCIV. To Peter George Patmore
XCV. To Bernard Barton
XCVI. To Thomas Hood
XCVII. To P.G. Patmore
XCVIII. To Bernard Barton
XCIX. To Procter
C. To Bernard Barton
CI. To Mr. Gilman
CII. To Wordsworth
CIII. To Mrs. Hazlitt
CIV. To George Dyer
CV. To Dyer
CVI. To Mr. Moxon
CVII. To Mr. Moxon



INTRODUCTION.


No writer, perhaps, since the days of Dr. Johnson has been oftener
brought before us in biographies, essays, letters, etc., than Charles
Lamb. His stammering speech, his gaiter-clad legs,--"almost immaterial
legs," Hood called them,--his frail wisp of a body, topped by a head
"worthy of Aristotle," his love of punning, of the Indian weed, and,
alas! of the kindly production of the juniper-berry (he was not, he
owned, "constellated under Aquarius"), his antiquarianism of taste, and
relish of the crotchets and whimsies of authorship, are as familiar to
us almost as they were to the group he gathered round him Wednesdays at
No. 4, Inner Temple Lane, where "a clear fire, a clean hearth, and the
rigor of the game" awaited them. Talfourd has unctuously celebrated
Lamb's "Wednesday Nights." He has kindly left ajar a door through which
posterity peeps in upon the company,--Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, "Barry
Cornwall," Godwin, Martin Burney, Crabb Robinson (a ubiquitous shade,
dimly suggestive of that figment, "Mrs. Harris"), Charles Kemble, Fanny
Kelly ("Barbara S."), on red-letter occasions Coleridge and
Wordsworth,--and sees them discharging the severer offices of the
whist-table ("cards were cards" then), and, later, unbending their minds
over poetry, criticism, and metaphysics. Elia was no Barmecide host, and
the serjeant dwells not without regret upon the solider business of the
evening,--"the cold roast lamb or boiled beef, the heaps of smoking
roasted potatoes, and the vast jug of porter, often replenished from the
foaming pots which the best tap of Fleet Street supplied," hospitably
presided over by "the most quiet, sensible, and kind of women,"
Mary Lamb.

The _terati_ Talfourd's day were clearly hardier of digestion than
their descendants are. Roast lamb, boiled beef, "heaps of smoking
roasted potatoes," pots of porter,--a noontide meal for a hodman,--and
the hour midnight! One is reminded, _ propos_ of Miss Lamb's robust
viands, that Elia somewhere confesses to "an occasional nightmare;" "but
I do not," he adds, "keep a whole stud of them." To go deeper into this
matter, to speculate upon the possible germs, the first vague
intimations to the mind of Coleridge of the weird spectra of "The
Ancient Mariner," the phantasmagoria of "Kubla Khan," would be, perhaps,
over-refining. "Barry Cornwall," too, Lamb tells us, "had his tritons
and his nereids gambolling before him in nocturnal visions." No wonder!

It is not intended here to re-thresh the straw left by Talfourd,
Fitzgerald, Canon Ainger, and others, in the hope of discovering
something new about Charles Lamb. In this quarter, at least, the wind
shall be tempered to the reader,--shorn as he is by these pages of a
charming letter or two. So far as fresh facts are concerned, the theme
may fairly be considered exhausted. Numberless writers, too, have rung
the changes upon "poor Charles Lamb," "dear Charles Lamb," "gentle
Charles Lamb," and the rest,--the final epithet, by the way being one
that Elia, living, specially resented:

"For God's sake," he wrote to Coleridge. "don't make me ridiculous any
more by terming me gentle-hearted in print, or do it in better verses.
It did well enough five years ago, when I came to see you, and was moral
coxcomb enough at the time you wrote the lines to feed upon such
epithets; but besides that the meaning of 'gentle' is equivocal at best,
and almost always means poor-spirited, the very quality of gentleness is
abhorrent to such vile trumpetings. My sentiment is long since vanished.
I hope my _virtues_ have done _sucking_. I can scarce think but you
meant it in joke. I hope you did, for I should be ashamed to believe
that you could think to gratify me by such praise, fit only to be a
cordial to some green-sick sonneteer."

The indulgent pity conventionally bestowed upon Charles Lamb--one of the
most manly, self-reliant of characters, to say nothing of his genius--is
absurdly' misplaced.

Still farther be it from us to blunt the edge of appetite by sapiently
essaying to "analyze" and account for Lamb's special zest and flavor, as
though his writings, or any others worth the reading, were put together
upon principles of clockwork. We are perhaps over-fond of these arid
pastimes nowadays. It is not the "sweet musk-roses," the "apricocks and
dewberries" of literature that please us best; like Bottom the Weaver,
we prefer the "bottle of hay." What a mockery of right enjoyment our
endless prying and sifting, our hunting of riddles in metaphors,
innuendoes in tropes, ciphers in Shakspeare! Literature exhausted, we
may turn to art, and resolve, say, the Sistine Madonna (I deprecate the
Manes of the "Divine Painter") into some ingenious and recondite rebus.
For such critical chopped-hay--sweeter to the modern taste than honey of
Hybla--Charles Lamb had little relish. "I am, sir," he once boasted to
an analytical, unimaginative proser who had insisted upon _explaining_
some quaint passage in Marvell or Wither, "I am, sir, a matter-of-lie
man." It was his best warrant to sit at the Muses' banquet. Charles Lamb
was blessed with an intellectual palate as fine as Keats's, and could
enjoy the savor of a book (or of that dainty, "in the whole _mundus
edibilis_ the most delicate," Roast Pig, for that matter) without
pragmatically asking, as the king did of the apple in the dumpling, "how
the devil it got there." His value as a critic is grounded in this
capacity of _nave_ enjoyment (not of pig, but of literature), of
discerning beauty and making _us_ discern it,--thus adding to the known
treasures and pleasures of mankind.

Suggestions not unprofitable for these later days lurk in these traits
of Elia the student and critic. How worthy the imitation, for instance,
of those disciples who band together to treat a fine poem (of Browning,
say, or Shelley) as they might a chapter in the Revelation,--speculating
sagely upon the import of the seven seals and the horns of the great
beast, instead of enjoying the obvious beauties of their author. To the
schoolmaster--whose motto would seem too often to be the counsel of the
irate old lady in Dickens, "Give him a meal of chaff!"--Charles Lamb's
critical methods are rich in suggestion.



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