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Works of Charles and Mary Lamb. VI-VII. Letters
Charles Lamb to Robert Southey, [20 November 1798]

Contents vol. VI
Letters: 1796
Letters: 1797
Letters: 1798
Letters: 1799
Letters: 1800
Letters: 1801
Letters: 1802
Letters: 1803
Letters: 1804
Letters: 1805
Letters: 1806
Letters: 1807
Letters: 1808
Letters: 1809
Letters: 1810
Letters: 1811
Letters: 1812
Letters: 1814
Letters: 1815
Letters: 1816
Letters: 1817
Letters: 1818
Letters: 1819
Letters: 1820
Letters: 1821
Contents vol. VII
Letters: 1821
Letters: 1822
Letters: 1823
Letters: 1824
Letters: 1825
Letters: 1826
Letters: 1827
Letters: 1828
Letters: 1829
Letters: 1830
Letters: 1831
Letters: 1832
Letters: 1833
Letters: 1834
Appendix I
Appendix II
Appendix III
List of Letters
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Produced by CATH
[Probably November, 1798.]

THE following is a second Extract from my Tragedy that is to be,—’tis narrated by an old Steward to Margaret, orphan ward of Sir Walter Woodvil;—this, and the Dying Lover I gave you, are the only extracts I can give without mutilation. I expect you to like the old woman’s curse:

Old Steward.—One summer night, Sir Walter, as it chanc’d,
Was pacing to & fro in the avenue
That westward fronts our house,
Among those aged oaks, said to have been planted
Three hundred years ago
By a neighb’ring Prior of the Woodvil name,
But so it was,
Being overtask’t in thought, he heeded not
The importune suitor who stood by the gate,
And beg’d an alms.
Some say he shov’d her rudely from the gate
With angry chiding; but I can never think
(Sir Walter’s nature hath a sweetness in it)
That he would use a woman—an old woman—
With such discourtesy;
For old she was who beg’d an alms of him.
Well, he refus’d her;
Whether for importunity, I know not,
Or that she came between his meditations.
But better had he met a lion in the streets
Than this old woman that night;
For she was one who practis’d the black arts,
And served the devil—being since burn’d for witchcraft.
She look’d at him like one that meant to blast him,
And with a frightful noise
(’Twas partly like a woman’s voice,
And partly like the hissing of a snake)
She nothing said but this (Sir Walter told the words):
1798 “THE WITCH” 133
“A mischief, mischief, mischief,
And a nine-times killing curse,
By day and by night, to the caitive wight
Who shakes the poor like snakes from his door,
And shuts up the womb of his purse;
And a mischief, mischief, mischief,
And a nine-fold withering curse,—
For that shall come to thee, that will render thee
Both all that thou fear’st, and worse.”
These words four times repeated, she departed,
Leaving Sir Walter like a man beneath
Whose feet a scaffolding had suddenly fal’n:
So he describ’d it.
Margaret.—A terrible curse!
Old Steward.—O Lady, such bad things are told of that old woman,
As, namely, that the milk she gave was sour,
And the babe who suck’d her shrivel’d like a mandrake;
And things besides, with a bigger horror in them,
Almost, I think, unlawful to be told!
Margaret.—Then must I never hear them. But proceed,
And say what follow’d on the witch’s curse.
Old Steward.—Nothing immediate; but some nine months after,
Young Stephen Woodvil suddenly fell sick,
And none could tell what ail’d him: for he lay,
And pin’d, and pin’d, that all his hair came off;
And he, that was full-flesh’d, became as thin
As a two-months’ babe that hath been starved in the nursing;—
And sure, I think,
He bore his illness like a little child,
With such rare sweetness of dumb melancholy
He strove to clothe his agony in smiles,
Which he would force up in his poor, pale cheeks,
Like ill-tim’d guests that had no proper business there;—
And when they ask’d him his complaint, he laid
His hand upon his heart to show the place
Where Satan came to him a nights, he said,
And prick’d him with a pin.—
And hereupon Sir Walter call’d to mind
The Beggar Witch that stood in the gateway,
And begg’d an alms—
Margaret.—I do not love to credit Tales of magic.
Heav’n’s music, which is order, seems unstrung;
And this brave world,
Creation’s beauteous work, unbeautified,
Uisorder’d, marr’d, where such strange things are acted.

This is the extract I brag’d of, as superior to that I sent you from Marlow. Perhaps you smile; but I should like your remarks on the above, as you are deeper witch-read than I.