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Works of Charles and Mary Lamb. VI-VII. Letters
Letters: 1818

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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18 feb. 1818. East India House.

(Mary shall send you all the news, which I find I have left out.)

MY dear Mrs. Wordsworth, I have repeatedly taken pen in hand to answer your kind letter. My sister should more properly have done it, but she having failed, I consider myself answerable for her debts. I am now trying to do it in the midst of Commercial noises, and with a quill which seems more ready to glide into arithmetical figures and names of Goods, Cassia, Cardemoms, Aloes, Ginger, Tea, than into kindly responses and friendly recollections.

The reason why I cannot write letters at home is, that I am never alone. Plato’s (I write to W. W. now) Plato’s double animal parted never longed [? more] to be reciprocally reunited in the system of its first creation, than I sometimes do to be but for a moment single and separate. Except my morning’s walk to the office, which is like treading on sands of gold for that reason, I am never so. I cannot walk home from office but some officious friend offers his damn’d unwelcome courtesies to accompany me. All the morning I am pestered. I could sit and gravely cast up sums in great Books, or compare sum with sum, and write Paid against this and Unp’d against t’other, and yet reserve in some “corner of my mind” some darling thoughts all my own—faint memory of some passage in a Book—or the tone of an absent friend’s Voice—a snatch or Miss Burrell’s singing—a gleam of Fanny Kelly’s divine plain face—The two operations might be going on at the same time without thwarting, as the sun’s two motions (earth’s I mean), or as I sometimes turn round till I am giddy, in my back parlour, while my sister is walking longitudinally in the front—or as the shoulder of veal twists round with the spit, while the smoke wreathes up the chimney—but there are a set of amateurs of the Belle Lettres—the gay science—who come to me as a sort of rendezvous, putting questions of criticism, of British Institutions, Lalla Rooks &c., what Coleridge said at the Lecture last night—who have the form of reading men, but, for any possible use Reading can be to them but to talk of, might as well have been Ante-Cadmeans born, or have lain sucking out the sense of an Egyptn. hieroglyph as long as the Pyramids will last before they
should find it. These pests worrit me at business and in all its intervals, perplexing my accounts, poisoning my little salutary warming-time at the fire, puzzling my paragraphs if I take a newspaper, cramming in between my own free thoughts and a column of figures which had come to an amicable compromise but for them. Their noise ended, one of them, as I said, accompanys me home lest I should be solitary for a moment; he at length takes his welcome leave at the door, up I go, mutton on table, hungry as hunter, hope to forget my cares and bury them in the agreeable abstraction of mastication, knock at the door, in comes
Mrs. Hazlitt, or M. Burney, or Morgan, or Demogorgon, or my brother, or somebody, to prevent my eating alone, a Process absolutely necessary to my poor wretched digestion. O the pleasure of eating alone!—eating my dinner alone! let me think of it. But in they come, and make it absolutely necessary that I should open a bottle of orange—for my meat turns into stone when any one dines with me, if I have not wine—wine can mollify stones. Then that wine turns into acidity, acerbity, misanthropy, a hatred of my interrupters (God bless ’em! I love some of ’em dearly), and with the hatred a still greater aversion to their going away. Bad is the dead sea they bring upon me, choaking and death-doing, but worse is the deader dry sand they leave me on if they go before bed time. Come never, I would say to these spoilers of my dinner, but if you come, never go. The fact is, this interruption does not happen very often, but every time it comes by surprise that present bane of my life, orange wine, with all its dreary stifling consequences, follows. Evening Company I should always like had I any mornings, but I am saturated with human faces (divine forsooth) and voices all the golden morning, and five evenings in a week would be as much as I should covet to be in company, but I assure you that is a wonderful week in which I can get two, or one, to myself. I am never C. L. but always C. L. and Co.

He, who thought it not good for man to be alone, preserve me from the more prodigious monstrosity of being never by myself. I forget bed time, but even there these sociable frogs clamber up to annoy me. Once a week, generally some singular evening that, being alone, I go to bed at the hour I ought always to be abed, just close to my bedroom window, is the club room of a public house, where a set of singers, I take them to be chorus-singers of the two theatres (it must be both of them), begin their orgies. They are a set of fellows (as I conceive) who being limited by their talents to the burthen of the song at the play houses, in revenge have got the common popular airs by Bishop or some cheap composer arranged for choruses, that is, to be sung all in chorus. At least I never can catch any of the text of the plain song,
nothing but the Babylonish choral howl at the tail on’t. “That fury being quenchd”—the howl I mean—a curseder burden succeeds, of shouts and clapping and knocking of the table. At length over tasked nature drops under it and escapes for a few hours into the society of the sweet silent creatures of Dreams, which go away with mocks and mows at cockcrow. And then I think of the words Christobel’s father used (bless me, I have dipt in the wrong ink) to say every morning by way of variety when he awoke—“Every knell, the Baron saith, Wakes us up to a world of death,” or something like it. All I mean by this senseless interrupted tale is, that by my central situation I am a little over companied. Not that I have any animosity against the good creatures that are so anxious to drive away the Harpy solitude from me. I like ’em, and cards, and a chearful glass, but I mean merely to give you an idea between office confinement and after office society, how little time I can call my own. I mean only to draw a picture, not to make an inference. I would not that I know of have it otherwise. I only wish sometimes I could exchange some of my faces and voices for the faces and voices which a late visitation brought most welcome and carried away leaving regret, but more pleasure, even a kind of gratitude, at being so often favored with that kind northern visitation. My London faces and noises don’t hear me—I mean no disrespect—or I should explain myself that instead of their return 220 times a year and the return of
W. W. &c. 7 times in 104 weeks, some more equal distribution might be found. I have scarce room to put in Mary’s kind love and my poor name

Ch. Lamb.
This to be read last.

W. H. goes on lecturing against W. W. and making copious use of quotations from said W. W. to give a zest to said lectures. S. T. C. is lecturing with success. I have not heard either him or H. but I dined with S. T. C. at Gilman’s a Sunday or 2 since and he was well and in good spirits. I mean to hear some of the course, but lectures are not much to my taste, whatever the Lecturer may be. If read, they are dismal flat, and you can’t think why you are brought together to hear a man read his works which you could read so much better at leisure yourself; if delivered extempore, I am always in pain lest the gift of utterance should suddenly fail the orator in the middle, as it did me at the dinner given in honor of me at the London Tavern. “Gentlemen” said I, and there I stoppt,—the rest my feelings were under the necessity of supplying. Mrs. Wordsworth will go on, kindly haunting us with visions of seeing the lakes once more
which never can be realized. Between us there is a great gulf—not of inexplicable moral antipathies and distances, I hope (as there seemd to be between me and that
Gentleman concern’d in the Stamp office that I so strangely coiled up from at Haydons). I think I had an instinct that he was the head of an office. I hate all such people—Accountants, Deputy Accountants. The dear abstract notion of the East India Company, as long as she is unseen, is pretty, rather Poetical; but as she makes herself manifest by the persons of such Beasts, I loathe and detest her as the Scarlet what-do-you-call-her of Babylon. I thought, after abridging us of all our red letter days, they had done their worst, but I was deceived in the length to which Heads of offices, those true Liberty haters, can go. They are the tyrants, not Ferdinand, nor Nero—by a decree past this week, they have abridged us of the immemorially-observed custom of going at one o’clock of a Saturday, the little shadow of a holiday left us. Blast them. I speak it soberly. Dear W. W., be thankful for your Liberty.

We have spent two very pleasant Evenings lately with Mr. Monkhouse.


[Mary Lamb’s letter of news either was not written or has not been preserved.

Lamb returned to the subject of this essay for his Popular Fallacy “That Home is Home” in 1826 (see Vol. II. of this edition, page 263). A little previously to that essay he had written an article in the New Times on unwelcome callers (see Vol. I. of this edition, page 270).

Plato’s double animal parted.” A reference, I think, to the Phædo.

“Corner of my mind.” I do not find this.

“Miss Burrell”—Fanny Burrell, afterwards Mrs. Gould. Lamb wrote in praise of her performance in “Don Giovanni in London” (see Vol. I. of this edition, page 372).

“Fanny Kelly’s divine plain face.” Only seventeen months later Lamb proposed to Miss Kelly.

“Lalla Rooks.” Thomas Moore’s poem Lalla Rookh was published in 1817.

“What Coleridge said.” Coleridge was still lecturing on Shakespeare and poetry in Flower-de-Luce Court.

“Ante-Cadmeans.” Cadmus is fabled as having introduced the use of letters into Greece.

“Morgan, or Demogorgon.” Lamb was fond of the passage in Paradise Lost (II., 295), in which “the dreaded name of Demogorgon” sounds.


“Human faces (divine forsooth).”
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine.
Paradise Lost, III., 44.

“The two theatres”—Drury Lane and Covent Garden. “Bishop”—Sir Henry Rowley Bishop (1786-1855), composer of “Home, Sweet Home.”

“That fury being quenchd.”
That fury stay’d,
Quencht in a boggy Syrtis.
Paradise Lost, II., 938-939.

“Mocks and mows.” “Mop and mow,” in “The Tempest,” IV., 1, 47.

“Christabel’s father.”
Each matin bell, the Baron saith,
Knells us back to a world of death.
Part II., lines 1 and 2.

“W. H. goes on lecturing.” Hazlitt was delivering a course of lectures on the English poets at the Surrey Institution.

“‘Gentlemen’ said I.” On another occasion Lamb, asked to give a toast, gave the best he knew—woodcock on toast. See also his toasts at Haydon’s dinner. I do not know when or why the dinner was given to him; perhaps after the failure of “W. H.”

“Gentleman concern’d in the Stamp office.” See note to the preceding letter.

“Our red letter days.” Lamb repeats the complaint in his Elia essay “Oxford in the Vacation.” In 1820, I see from the Directory, the Accountant’s Office, where Lamb had his desk, kept sacred only five red-letter days, where, ten years earlier, it had observed many.

“Mr. Monkhouse.” Thomas Monkhouse, a friend of the Wordsworths and of Lamb. He was at Haydon’s dinner.

Here should come a note from Lamb to Charles and James Ollier, dated May 28, 1818, not available for this edition (printed in The Lambs); which apparently accompanied final proofs of Lamb’s Works. Lamb remarks, “There is a Sonnet to come in by way of dedication.” This would be that to Martin Burney at the beginning of Vol. II. The Works were published in two volumes with a beautiful dedication to Coleridge (see Vol. V. of the present edition, page 1). Charles Ollier (1788-1859) was a friend of Leigh Hunt’s, for whom he published, as well as for Shelley. He also brought out Keats’ first volume. The Olliers’ address was The Library, Vere Street, Oxford Street.]

1818 LAMB’S “WORKS” 515
[p.m. June 18, 1818.]

DEAR Sir (whichever opens it) I am going off to Birminghm. I find my books, whatever faculty of selling they may have (I wish they had more for your | my sake), are admirably adapted for giving away. You have been bounteous. Six more and I shall have satisfied all just claims. Am I taking too great a liberty in begging you to send 4 as follows, and reserve 2 for me when I come home? That will make 31. Thirty-one times 12 is 372 shillings, Eighteen pounds twelve Shillings!!!—but here are my friends, to whom, if you could transmit them, as I shall be away a month, you will greatly

oblige the obliged
C. Lamb.

Mr. Ayrton, James Street, Buckingham Gate

Mr. Alsager, Suffolk Street East, Southwark, by Horsemonger Lane and in one parcel

directed to R. Southey, Esq., Keswick, Cumberland

one for R. S.;

and one for Wm. Wordsworth, Esqr.

If you will be kind enough simply to write “from the Author” in all 4—you will still further etc.—

Either Longman or Murray is in the frequent habit of sending books to Southey and will take charge of the Parcel. It will be as well to write in at the beginning thus

R. Southey Esq. from the Author.

W. Wordsworth Esq. from the Author.

Then, if I can find the remaining 2, left for me at Russell St when I return, rather than encroach any more on the heap, I will engage to make no more new friends ad infinitum, yourselves being the last.

Yours truly
C. L.

I think Southey will give us a lift in that damn’d Quarterly. I meditate an attack upon that Cobler Gifford, which shall appear immediately after any favourable mention which S. may make in the Quarterly. It can’t in decent gratitude appear before.


[We know nothing of Lamb’s visit to Birmingham. He is hardly likely to have stayed with any of the Lloyd family. The attack on Gifford was probably the following sonnet, printed in The Examiner for October 3 and 4, 1819:—

All unadvised, and in an evil hour.
Lured by aspiring thoughts, my son, you daft
The lowly labours of the Gentle Craft
For learned toils, which blood and spirits sour.
All things, dear pledge, are not in all men’s power;
The wiser sort of shrub affects the ground;
And sweet content of mind is oftener found
In cobbler’s parlour, than in critic’s bower.
The sorest work is what doth cross the grain;
And better to this hour you had been plying
The obsequious awl with well-waxed finger flying,
Than ceaseless thus to till a thankless vein;
Still teazing Muses, which are still denying;
Making a stretching-leather of your brain.]

Monday, Oct. 26th, 1818.

DEAR Southey,—I am pleased with your friendly remembrances of my little things. I do not know whether I have done a silly thing or a wise one; but it is of no great consequence. I run no risk, and care for no censures. My bread and cheese is stable as the foundations of Leadenhall Street, and if it hold out as long as the “foundations of our empire in the East,” I shall do pretty well. You and W. W. should have had your presentation copies more ceremoniously sent; but I had no copies when I was leaving town for my holidays, and rather than delay, commissioned my bookseller to send them thus nakedly. By not hearing from W. W. or you, I began to be afraid Murray had not sent them. I do not see S. T. C. so often as I could wish. He never comes to me; and though his host and hostess are very friendly, it puts me out of my way to go see one person at another person’s house. It was the same when he resided at Morgan’s. Not but they also were more than civil; but after all one feels so welcome at one’s own house. Have you seen poor Miss Betham’sVignettes”? Some of them, the second particularly, “To Lucy,” are sweet and
good as herself, while she was herself. She is in some measure abroad again. I am better than I deserve to be. The hot weather has been such a treat!
Mary joins in this little corner in kindest remembrances to you all.

C. L.

[The letter treats of Lamb’s Works, just published. Matilda Betham followed up The Lay of Marie with a volume entitled Vignettes.

“I am better than I deserve.” Why Lamb underlined these words I do not know, but it may have been a quotation from Coleridge. Carlyle in his account of his visit to Coleridge at Highgate (in the Life of John Sterling) puts it into Coleridge’s mouth in connection with a lukewarm cup of tea.]

Dec. 24th, 1818.

MY dear Coleridge,—I have been in a state of incessant hurry ever since the receipt of your ticket. It found me incapable of attending you, it being the night of Kenney’s new comedy. . . .1 You know my local aptitudes at such a time; I have been a thorough rendezvous for all consultations. My head begins to clear up a little; but it has had bells in it. Thank you kindly for your ticket, though the mournful prognostic which accompanies it certainly renders its permanent pretensions less marketable; but I trust to hear many a course yet. You excepted Christmas week, by which I understood next week; I thought Christmas week was that which Christmas Sunday ushered in. We are sorry it never lies in your way to come to us; but, dear Mahomet, we will come to you. Will it be convenient to all the good people at Highgate, if we take a stage up, not next Sunday, but the following, viz., 3rd January, 1819—shall we be too late to catch a skirt of the old out-goer;—how the years crumble from under us! We shall hope to see you before then; but, if not, let us know if then will be convenient. Can we secure a coach home?

Believe me ever yours,
C. Lamb.

I have but one holiday, which is Christmas-day itself nakedly: no pretty garnish and fringes of St. John’s day, Holy Innocents

1 [Canon Ainger supplies the four missing words: “which has utterly failed.”]

&c., that used to bestud it all around in the calendar. Improbe labor! I write six hours every day in this candle-light fog-den at Leadheall.


[The ticket was for a new course of lectures, either on the History of Philosophy, or Six Plays of Shakespeare, both of which began in December, 1818, and continued into 1819.

Kenney’s new farce was “A Word for the Ladies,” produced at Covent Garden on December 17.

“To catch a skirt of the old out-goer.” A reference to Coleridge’s line—
I saw the skirts of the departing year.

Improbe Labor!Virgil (Georgics, I., 145-146) has—
Labor omnia vincit
(Persevering labour overcomes everything);
or more likely perhaps an incorrect recollection of
Æneid, IV., 412, “Improbe amor.

Somewhere at this point should come a delightful letter from Lamb to John Chambers. John Chambers was the brother of Charles Chambers (see note on page 682). He was a colleague of Lamb’s at the India House (see the Elia essay “The Superannuated Man”), and survived until 1872. It was to John Chambers that Lamb made the remark that he (Lamb) was probably the only man in England who had never worn boots and never ridden a horse. The letter, which is concerned with the peculiarities of India House clerks, is famous for the remark on Tommy Bye, a fellow clerk at the India House, that “his sonnets are most like Petrarch of any foreign poet, or what we may suppose Petrarch would have written if Petrarch had been born a fool.” We meet Bye again in the letter to Wordsworth on page 524. I can find no trace of his sonnets in book form. Possibly they were never published.]