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Works of Charles and Mary Lamb. VI-VII. Letters
Charles Lamb to Thomas Manning, 15 February 1802

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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[No date. ? Feb. 15, 1802.]

NOT a sentence, not a syllable of Trismegistus, shall be lost through my neglect. I am his word-banker, his storekeeper of puns and syllogisms. You cannot conceive (and if Trismegistus
cannot, no man can) the strange joy which I felt at the receipt of a letter from Paris. It seemed to give me a learned importance, which placed me above all who had not Parisian correspondents. Believe that I shall carefully husband every scrap, which will save you the trouble of memory, when you come back. You cannot write things so trifling, let them only be about Paris, which I shall not treasure. In particular, I must have parallels of actors and actresses. I must be told if any building in Paris is at all comparable to St. Paul’s, which, contrary to the usual mode of that part of our nature called admiration, I have looked up to with unfading wonder every morning at ten o’clock, ever since it has lain in my way to business. At noon I casually glance upon it, being hungry; and hunger has not much taste for the fine arts. Is any night-walk comparable to a walk from St. Paul’s to Charing Cross, for lighting and paving, crowds going and coming without respite, the rattle of coaches and the cheerfulness of shops? Have you seen a man guillotined yet? is it as good as hanging? are the women all painted, and the men all monkeys? or are there not a few that look like rational of both sexes? Are you and the
First Consul thick? All this expense of ink I may fairly put you to, as your letters will not be solely for my proper pleasure, but are to serve as memoranda and notices, help for short memory, a kind of Rumfordising recollection, for yourself on your return. Your letter was just what a letter should be, crammed and very funny. Every part of it pleased me till you came to Paris; and your damn’d philosophical indolence or indifference stung me. You cannot stir from your rooms till you know the language! What the devil!—are men nothing but word-trumpets? are men all tongue and ear? have these creatures, that you and I profess to know something about, no faces, gestures, gabble: no folly, no absurdity, no induction of French education upon the abstract idea of men and women, no similitude nor dissimilitude to English! Why! thou damn’d Smellfungus! your account of your landing and reception, and Bullen (I forget how you spell it—it was spelt my way in Harry the Eighth’s time,) was exactly in that minute style which strong impressions Inspire (writing to a Frenchman, I write as a Frenchman would). It appears to me as if I should die with joy at the first landing in a foreign country. It is the nearest pleasure, which a grown man can substitute for that unknown one, which he can never know—the pleasure of the first entrance into life from the womb. I dare say, in a short time, my habits would come back like a “stronger man” armed, and drive out that new pleasure; and I should soon sicken for known objects. Nothing has transpired here that seems to me of sufficient importance to send dry-shod over the water: but I suppose you will want to be told some news. The best and the worst
to me is, that I have given up two guineas a week at the “
Post,” and regained my health and spirits, which were upon the wane. I grew sick, and Stuart unsatisfied. Ludisti satis, tempus abire est; I must cut closer, that’s all. Mister Fell—or as you, with your usual facetiousness and drollery, call him, Mr. F + ll—has stopped short in the middle of his play. Some friend has told him that it has not the least merit in it. Oh! that I had the rectifying of the Litany! I would put in a libera nos (Scriptores videlicet) ab amicis! That’s all the news. A propos (is it pedantry, writing to a Frenchman, to express myself sometimes by a French word, when an English one would not do as well? methinks, my thoughts fall naturally into it).——

In all this time I have done but one thing, which I reckon tolerable, and that I will transcribe, because it may give you pleasure, being a picture of my humours. You will find it in my last page. It absurdly is a first Number of a series, thus strangled in its birth.

More news! The Professor’s Rib has come out to be a damn’d disagreeable woman, so much so as to drive me and some more old cronies from his house. If a man will keep snakes in his house, he must not wonder if people are shy of coming to see him because of the snakes.

C. L.

Apropos, I think you wrong about my play. All the omissions are right. And the supplementary scene, in which Sandford narrates the manner in which his master is affected, is the best in the book. It stands where a hodge-podge of German puerilities used to stand. I insist upon it that you like that scene. Love me, love that scene. I will now transcribe the “Londoner” (No. 1), and wind up all with affection and humble servant at the end.

The Londoner. No. 1

In compliance with my own particular humour, no less than with thy laudable curiosity, Reader, I proceed to give thee some account of my history and habits. I was born under the nose of St. Dunstan’s steeple, just where the conflux of the eastern and western inhabitants of this twofold city meet and justle in friendly opposition at Temple-bar. The same day which gave me to the world saw London happy in the celebration of her great annual feast. This I cannot help looking upon as a lively type or omen of the future great goodwill which I was destined to bear toward the City, resembling in kind that solicitude which every Chief Magistrate is supposed to feel for whatever concerns her interests and well-being. Indeed, I consider myself in some sort a speculative Lord Mayor of London: for, though circumstances unhappily preclude me from the hope of ever arriving at the dignity of a gold
chain and spital sermon, yet thus much will I say of myself, in truth, that
Whittington himself with his Cat (just emblem of vigilance and a furred gown), never went beyond me in affection, which I bear to the citizens. Shut out from serving them in the most honourable mode, I aspire to do them benefit in another, scarcely less honourable; and if I cannot, by virtue of office, commit vice and irregularity to the material Counter, I will, at least, erect a spiritual one, where they shall be laid fast by the heels. In plain words, I will do my best endeavour to write them down.

To return to myself (from whence my zeal for the Public good is perpetually causing me to digress), I will let thee, Reader, into certain more of my peculiarities. I was born (as you have heard), bred, and have passed most of my time, in a crowd. This has begot in me an entire affection for that way of life, amounting to an almost insurmountable aversion from solitude and rural scenes. This aversion was never interrupted or suspended, except for a few years in the younger part of my life, during a period in which I had fixed my affections upon a charming young woman. Every man, while the passion is upon him, is for a time at least addicted to groves and meadows, and purling streams. During this short period of my existence, I contracted just enough familiarity with rural objects to understand tolerably well ever after the Poets, when they declaim in such passionate terms in favour of a country life.

For my own part, now the fit is long past, I have no hesitation in declaring, that a mob of happy faces crowding up at the pit door of Drury-Lane Theatre just at the hour of five, give me ten thousand finer pleasures, than I ever received from all the flocks of silly sheep, that have whitened the plains of Arcadia or Epsom Downs.

This passion for crowds is no where feasted so full as in London. The man must have a rare recipe for melancholy, who can be dull in Fleet-street. I am naturally inclined to hypochondria, but in London it vanishes, like all other ills. Often when I have felt a weariness or distaste at home, have I rushed out into her crowded Strand, and fed my humour, till tears have wetted my cheek for inutterable sympathies with the multitudinous moving picture, which she never fails to present at all hours, like the shifting scenes of a skilful Pantomime.

The very deformities of London, which give distaste to others, from habit do not displease me. The endless succession of shops, where Fancy (miscalled Folly) is supplied with perpetual new gauds and toys, excite in me no puritanical aversion. I gladly behold every appetite supplied with its proper food. The obliging customer, and the obliged tradesmen—things which live by bowing,
and things which exist but for homage, do not affect me with disgust; from habit I perceive nothing but urbanity, where other men, more refined, discover meanness. I love the very smoke of London, because it has been the medium most familiar to my vision. I see grand principles of honour at work in the dirty ring which encompasses two combatants with fists, and principles of no less eternal justice in the tumultuous detectors of a pickpocket. The salutary astonishment with which an execution is surveyed, convinces me more forcibly than an hundred volumes of abstract polity, that the universal instinct of man, in all ages, has leaned to order and good government. Thus an art of extracting morality, from the commonest incidents of a town life, is attained by the same well-natured alchemy, with which the Foresters of Arden in a beautiful country
Found tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing—
Where has spleen her food but in London—humour, interest, curiosity, suck at her measureless breasts without a possibility of being satiated. Nursed amid her noise, her crowds, her beloved smoke—what have I been doing all my life, if I have not lent out my heart with usury to such scenes?

Reader, in the course of my peregrinations about the great city, it is hard, if I have not picked up matter, which may serve to amuse thee, as it has done me, a winter evening long. When next we meet, I purpose opening my budget—Till when, farewell.

“What is all this about?” said Mrs. Shandy. “A story of a cock and a bull,” said Yorick: and so it is; but Manning will take good-naturedly what God will send him across the water: only I hope he won’t shut his eyes, and open his mouth, as the children say, for that is the way to gape, and not to read. Manning, continue your laudable purpose of making me your register. I will render back all your remarks; and I, not you, shall have received usury by having read them. In the mean time, may the great Spirit have you in his keeping, and preserve our Englishmen from the inoculation of frivolity and sin upon French earth.

Allons—or what is it you say, instead of good-bye?

Mary sends her kind remembrance, and covets the remarks equally with me.

C. Lamb.