LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Works of Charles and Mary Lamb. VI-VII. Letters
Letters: 1819

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
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
[This letter is written in black and red ink, changing with each line.]
[p.m. April 26, 1819.]

DEAR Wordsworth, I received a copy of Peter Bell a week ago, and I hope the author will not be offended if I say I do not much relish it. The humour, if it is meant for humour, is
forced, and then the price. Sixpence would have been dear for it. Mind, I do not mean your
Peter Bell, but a Peter Bell which preceded it about a week, and is in every bookseller’s shop window in London, the type and paper nothing differing from the true one, the preface signed W. W., and the supplementary preface quoting as the author’s words an extract from supplementary preface to the Lyrical Balads. Is there no law against these rascals? I would have this Lambert Simnel whipt at the cart’s tail. Then there is Rogers! he has been re-writing your Poem of the Stride, and publishing it at the end of his “Human Life.” Tie him up to the Cart, hangman, while you are about it. Who started the spurious P. B. I have not heard. I should guess, one of the sneering brothers—the vile Smiths—but I have heard no name mentioned. Peter Bell (not the mock one) is excellent. For its matter, I mean. I cannot say that the style of it quite satisfies me. It is too lyrical. The auditors to whom it is feigned to be told, do not arride me. I had rather it had been told me, the reader, at once. Heartleap Well is the tale for me, in matter as good as this, in manner infinitely before it, in my poor judgment. Why did you not add the Waggoner? Have I thanked you, though, yet, for Peter Bell? I would not not have it for a good deal of money. C—— is very foolish to scribble about books. Neither his tongue nor fingers are very retentive. But I shall not say any thing to him about it. He would only begin a very long story, with a very long face, and I see him far too seldom to teaze him with affairs of business or conscience when I do see him. He never comes near our house, and when we go to see him, he is generally writing, or thinking he is writing, in his study till the dinner comes, and that is scarce over before the stage summons us away. The mock P. B. had only this effect on me, that after twice reading it over in hopes to find something diverting in it, I reach’d your two books off the shelf and set into a steady reading of them, till I had nearly finished both before I went to bed. The two of your last edition, of course, I mean. And in the morning I awoke determining to take down the Excursion. I wish the scoundrel imitator could know this. But why waste a wish on him? I do not believe that paddling about with a stick in a pond and fishing up a dead author whom his intolerable wrongs had driven to that deed of desperation, would turn the heart of one of these obtuse literary Bells. There is no Cock for such Peters. Damn ’em. I am glad this aspiration came upon the red ink line. It is more of a bloody curse. I have delivered over your other presents to Alsager and G. D.—A. I am sure will value it and be proud of the hand from which it came. To G. D. a poem is a poem. His own as good as any bodie’s, and god bless him, any bodie’s as good as his own, for
I do not think he has the most distant guess of the possibility of one poem being better than another. The Gods by denying him the very faculty itself of discrimination have effectually cut off every seed of envy in his bosom. But with envy, they excided Curiosity also, and if you wish the copy again, which you destined for him, I think I shall be able to find it again for you—on his third shelf, where he stuffs his presentation copies, uncut, in shape and matter resembling a lump of dry dust, but on carefully removing that stratum, a thing like a Pamphlet will emerge. I have tried this with fifty different Poetical Works that have been given G. D. in return for as many of his own performances, and I confess I never had any scruple in taking my own again wherever I found it, shaking the adherencies off—and by this means one Copy of “my Works “served for G. D. and with a little dusting was made over to my good friend
Dr. Stoddart, who little thought whose leavings he was taking when he made me that graceful bow. By the way, the Doctor is the only one of my acquaintance who bows gracefully, my Town acquaintance I mean. How do you like my way of writing with two Inks? I think it is pretty and mottley. Suppose Mrs. W. adopts it, the next time she holds the pen for you.

[The ink differs with every word of the following paragraph:—]

My dinner waits. I have no time to indulge any longer in these laborious curiosities. God bless you and cause to thrive and to burgeon whatsoever you write, and fear no inks of miserable poetasters.

Yours truly
Charles Lamb.

Mary’s love.


[The Peter Bell to which Lamb refers was written by John Hamilton Reynolds (1796- 1852), the friend of Keats, and later Hood’s brother-in-law. The parody is a travesty of Wordsworth generally rather than of Peter Bell, which had not then been published. James and Horace Smith, of the Rejected Addresses, which contained a parody of Wordsworth under the title “The Baby’s Debut,” had nothing to do with it. Lamb’s indignation was shared by Coleridge, who wrote as follows to Taylor and Hessey, the publishers, on April 16, 1819, on the announcement of Reynolds’ work:—

Dear Sirs, I hope, nay I feel confident, that you will interpret this note in th’ real sense—namely, as a proof of the esteem and respect which I entertain toward you both. Looking in the Times this morning I was startled by an advertisement of Peter Bell—a Lyrical Ballad—with a very significant motto from one of our Comedies of Charles the IId’s reign, tho’ what it signifies I wish to ascertain. Peter Bell is a Poem of Mr. Wordsworth’s—and I have not heard, that it has been published by him.—If it have, and with his name (I have reason to believe, that
he never published anonymously) and this now advertised be a ridicule on it—I have nothing to say—But if it have not, I have ventured to pledge myself for you, that you would not wittingly give the high respectability of your names to an attack on a Manuscript work, which no man could assail but by a base breach of trust.

It is stated in the article on Reynolds in the Dictionary of National Biography that Coleridge asserted positively that Lamb was the objectionable parodist; but this letter suggests that that was not so.

Lambert Simnel”—one of the pretenders to the throne of Henry VII.

Peter Bell (not the mock one).” Crabb Robinson’s Diary, in the original MS., for June 6, 1812, contains this passage:—

With C. Lamb. Lent him Peter Bell. To my surprise he finds nothing in it good. He complains of the slowness of the narrative, as if that were not the art of the Poet. W. he says has great thoughts, but here are none of them. He has no interest in the Ass. These are to me inconceivable judgments from C. L. whose taste in general I acquiesce in and who is certainly an enthusiast for W.

Again, on May 11, 1819, after the poem was published, Robinson says:—

L. spoke of Peter Bell which he considers as one of the worst of Wordsworth’s works. The lyric narrative L. has no taste for. He is disgusted by the introduction, which he deems puerile and the story he thinks ill told, though he allows the idea to be good.

“Rogers.” At the end of Samuel Rogers’ poem, Human Life, 1819, is a ballad, entitled “The Boy of Egremond,” which has for subject the same incident as that in Wordsworth’sForce of Prayer”—beginning
What is good for a bootless bene?
—the death of the Young Romilly as he leapt across the Strid. In
Wordsworth the answer to the question is “Endless sorrow.” Rogers’ poem begins:—
“Say what remains when hope is fled?”
She answered “Endless weeping.”

Wordsworth’s Peter Bell was published a week after the mock one. To The Waggoner we shall come shortly.

The significance of the allusion to Coleridge is not perfectly clear; but I imagine it to refer to the elaborate examination of Wordsworth’s poetry in the Biographia Literaria.

“These obtuse literary Bells.” Peter Bell, in the poem, sounds the river with his staff, and draws forth the dead body of the ass’s master. Lamb passes, in his curse, to a reference to St. Peter.

“Taking my own again.” This, if, as one may suppose, adapted from Moliere’s “Je reprendre mon bien partout où je le trouve,” is an indication that Lamb knew the Frenchman’s comedies.]

May 28, 1819.

MY dear M.,—I want to know how your brother is, if you have heard lately. I want to know about you. I wish you were nearer.1 How are my cousins, the Gladmans of Wheathamstead, and farmer Bruton? Mrs. Bruton is a glorious woman.
Hail, Mackeray End—
This is a fragment of a blank verse poem which I once meditated, but got no further. The E. I. H. has been thrown into a quandary by the strange phenomenon of poor
Tommy Bye, whom I have known man and mad-man twenty-seven years, he being elder here than myself by nine years and more. He was always a pleasant, gossiping, half-headed, muzzy, dozing, dreaming, walk-about, inoffensive chap; a little too fond of the creature—who isn’t at times? but Tommy had not brains to work off an over-night’s surfeit by ten o’clock next morning, and unfortunately, in he wandered the other morning drunk with last night, and with a superfœtation of drink taken in since he set out from bed. He came staggering under his double burthen, like trees in Java, bearing at once blossom, fruit, and falling fruit, as I have heard you or some other traveller tell, with his face literally as blue as the bluest firmament; some wretched calico that he had mopped his poor oozy front with had rendered up its native dye, and the devil a bit would he consent to wash it, but swore it was characteristic, for he was going to the sale of indigo, and set up a laugh which I did not think the lungs of mortal man were competent to. It was like a thousand people laughing, or the Goblin Page. He imagined afterwards that the whole office had been laughing at him, so strange did his own sounds strike upon his nonsensorium. But Tommy has laughed his last laugh, and awoke the next day to find himself reduced from an abused income of £600 per annum to one-sixth of the sum, after thirty-six years’ tolerably good service. The quality of mercy was not strained in his behalf; the gentle dews dropt not on him from heaven. It just came across me that I was writing to Canton. How is Ball? “Mr. B. is a P——.” Will you drop in to-morrow night? Fanny Kelly is coming, if she does not cheat us. Mrs. Gold is well, but proves “uncoined,” as the lovers about Wheathampstead would say.
O hard hearted Burrell
With teeth like a squirrel—

1 [See Appendix II., page 973.]

1819 MACKERY END 523

I have not had such a quiet half hour to sit down to a quiet letter for many years. I have not been interrupted above four times. I wrote a letter the other day in alternate lines, black ink and red, and you cannot think how it chilled the flow of ideas. Next Monday is Whit-Monday. What a reflection! Twelve years ago, and I should have kept that and the following holiday in the fields a-Maying. All of those pretty pastoral delights are over. This dead, everlasting dead desk—how it weighs the spirit of a gentleman down! This dead wood of the desk instead of your living trees! But then, again, I hate the Joskins, a name for Hertfordshire bumpkins. Each state of life has its inconvenience; but then, again, mine has more than one. Not that I repine, or grudge, or murmur at my destiny. I have meat and drink, and decent apparel; I shall, at least, when I get a new hat.

A red-haired man has just interrupted me. He has broke the current of my thoughts. I haven’t a word to add. I don’t know why I send this letter, but I have had a hankering to hear about you some days. Perhaps it will go off, before your reply comes. If it don’t, I assure you no letter was ever welcomer from you, from Paris or Macao.

C. Lamb.

[Manning, who had now settled in England, but in retirement, was living in Hertfordshire, at Totteridge. The Gladmans and Brutons are mentioned in the Elia essay “Mackery End in Hertfordshire”:—

“The oldest thing I remember is Mackery End; or Mackarel End, as it is spelt, perhaps more properly, in some old maps of Hertfordshire; a farm-house,—delightfully situated within a gentle walk from Wheathampstead. I can just remember having been there, on a visit to a great-aunt, when I was a child, under the care of Bridget; who, as I have said, is older than myself by some ten years. I wish that I could throw into a heap the remainder of our joint existences, that we might share them in equal division. But that is impossible. The house was at that time in the occupation of a substantial yeoman, who had married my grandmother’s sister. His name was Gladman. My grandmother was a Bruton, married to a Field. The Gladmans and the Brutons are still flourishing in that part of the country, but the Fields are almost extinct.”

The farm at Mackery End is now (1904) in other hands, but a Miss Sarah Bruton, the last of the flock, still lives at Wheathampstead.

Tommy Bye we saw in the abstract of the letter to Chambers on page 518.

“Over-night’s surfeit”—Apemantus’ phrase in “Timon,” IV., 3, 227, “O’er-night’s surfeit.”


The Goblin Page is in Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel.

“The quality of mercy was not strained”—from Portia’s speech in “The Merchant of Venice” (IV., 1, 184).

“Mrs. Gold is well”—née Fanny Burrell (see note on page 513).

“This dead wood of the desk.” Lamb used this figure more than once, in his letters and elsewhere. In the Elia essay “The Superannuated Man” he says: “I had grown to my desk, as it were; and the wood had entered into my soul.”]

[p.m. June 7, 1819.]

MY dear Wordsworth, You cannot imagine how proud we are here of the dedication. We read it twice for once that we do the poem—I mean all through—yet Benjamin is no common favorite—there is a spirit of beautiful tolerance in it—it is as good as it was in 1806—and will be as good in 1829 if our dim eyes shall be awake to peruse it.

Methinks there is a kind of shadowing affinity between the subject of the narrative and the subject of the dedication—but I will not enter into personal themes—else, substituting ******* **** for Ben, and the Honble United Company of Merchts trading to the East Indies for the Master of the misused Team, it might seem by no far fetched analogy to point its dim warnings hitherward—but I reject the omen—especially as its import seems to have been diverted to another victim.

Poor Tommy Bye, whom I have known (as I express’d it in a letter to Manning), man and mad man 27 years—he was my gossip in Leadenhall St.—but too much addicted to turn in at a red lattice—came wandering into his and my common scene of business—you have seen the orderly place—reeling drunk at nine o Clock— with his face of a deep blue, contracted by a filthy dowlas muckinger which had given up its dye to his poor oozy visnomy—and short to tell, after playing various pranks, laughing loud laughters three—mad explosions they were—in the following morning the “tear stood in his ee”—for he found his abused income of clear £600 inexorably reduced to £100—he was my dear gossip—alas! Benjamin! . . .

I will never write another letter with alternate inks. You cannot imagine how it cramps the flow of the style. I can conceive Pindar (I do not mean to compare myself [to] him) by the command of Hiero, the Sicilian tyrant (was not he the tyrant of some place? fie
on my neglect of history—) conceive him by command of Hiero, or Perillus, set down to pen an Isthmian or Nemean Panegyre in lines alternate red and black. I maintain he couldn’t have done it—it would have been a strait laced torture to his muse, he would have call’d for the Bull for a relief. Neither could Lycidas, or the Chorics (how do you like the word?) of
Samson Agonistes, have been written with two inks. Your couplets with points, Epilogues to Mr. H.s, &c. might be even benefited by the twy-fount. Where one line (the second) is for point, and the first for rhime, I think the alternation would assist, like a mould. I maintain it, you could not have written your stanzas on pre existence with 2 inks. Try another, and Rogers the Banker, with his silver standish having one ink only, I will bet my Ode on Tobacco, against the Pleasures of Memory—and Hope too—shall put more fervor of enthusiasm into the same subject than you can with your two—he shall do it stans pede in uno as it were.

The Waggoner is very ill put up in boards, at least it seems to me always to open at the dedication—but that is a mechanical fault.

I re-read the White Doe of Rylston—the title should be always written at length—as Mary Sabilla Novello, a very nice woman of our acquaintance, always signs hers at the bottom of the shortest note. Mary told her, if her name had been Mary Ann, she would have signed M. A. Novello, or M. only, dropping the A—which makes me think, with some other triflings, that she understands something of human nature. My pen goes galloping on most rhapsodically, glad to have escaped the bondage of Two Inks.

Manning had just sent it home and it came as fresh to me as the immortal creature it speaks of. M. sent it home with a note, having this passage in it, “I cannot help writing to you while I am reading Wordswths poem. I am got into the 3rd Canto, and say that it raises my opinion of him very much indeed. ✠ ’Tis broad; noble; poetical; with a masterly scanning of human actions, absolutely above common readers. What a manly (implied) interpretation of (bad) party-actions, as trampling the bible, &c.”—and so he goes on.

✠ N.B. M—— from his peregrinations is 12 or 14 years behind in his knowledge of who has or has not written good verse of late.

I do not know which I like best, the prologue (the latter part specially) to P. Bell, or the Epilogue to Benjamin. Yes, I tell stories, I do know. I like the last best, and the Waggoner altogether as a pleasanter remembrance to me than the Itinerant. If it were not, the page before the first page would and ought to make it so.

The sonnets are not all new to me. Of what are, the 9th I like best. Thank you for that to Walton. I take it as a favor done to
me, that, being so old a darling of mine, you should bear testimony to his worth in a book containing a dedi——

I cannot write the vain word at full length any longer.

If as you say, the Waggoner in some sort came at my call, O for a potent voice to call forth the Recluse from his profound Dormitory, where he sleeps forgetful of his foolish charge The World.

Had I three inks I would invoke him!

Talfourd has written a most kind Review of J. Woodvil, &c., in the Champion. He is your most zealous admirer, in solitude and in crowds. H. Crabbe Robinson gives me any dear Prints that I happen to admire, and I love him for it and for other things. Alsager shall have his copy, but at present I have lent it for a day only, not chusing to part with my own. Mary’s love. How do you all do, amanuenses both—marital and sororal?

C. Lamb.

[Wordsworth had just put forth The Waggoner, which was dedicated to Lamb in the following terms:—

My Dear FriendWhen I sent you, a few weeks ago, “The Tale of Peter Bell,” you asked “Why ‘The Waggoner ‘was not added?” To say the truth, from the higher tone of imagination, and the deeper touches of passion aimed at in the former, I apprehended this little piece could not accompany it without disadvantage. In the year 1806, if I am not mistaken, “The Waggoner” was read to you in manuscript, and as you have remembered it for so long a time, I am the more encouraged to hope that, since the localities on which the poem partly depends did not prevent its being interesting to you, it may prove acceptable to others. Being, therefore, in some measure the cause of its present appearance, you must allow me the gratification of inscribing it to you, in acknowledgment of the pleasure I have derived from your writings, and of the high esteem with which

I am very truly yours,
William Wordsworth.

The poem, which had been written many years before, tells the story of Benjamin, a waggoner in the Lake county, who one stormy night, succumbing to the temptations of the Cherry Tree Inn, fell from good estate. Lamb’s asterisks stand, of course, for Charles Lamb.

“A tear stood in his ee.” In the ballad of “Young Bekie” is the line
An’ the tears was in his ee.
The phrase was probably a commonplace in the old minstrelsy.

Hiero I. was King of Syracuse and is celebrated by Pindar for his supremacy in the Olympian Games. The bull for which Pindar would have called was that devised by Perillus, the mechanic, for Phalaris, the tyrant of Agrigentum, in which criminals were roasted to death.


“Your stanzas on pre existence”—the “Ode on Intimations of Immortality.”

The Pleasures of Hope was Campbell’s poem.

Mary Sabilla Novello was the wife of Vincent Novello, the organist, and Lamb’s friend.

The White Doe of Rylstone had been published in 1815.

The 9th sonnet. Certain sonnets had been published with The Waggoner. The 9th was that beginning:—
Grief, thou hast lost an ever ready Friend.

Wordsworth’s sonnet upon Walton begins:—
While flowing rivers yield a blameless sport.

The Recluse was not published until 1888, and then only Book I.

The Champion, in which Talfourd reviewed Lamb’s Works, had now become the property of John Thelwall.]

20 July, 1819.

DEAR Miss Kelly,—We had the pleasure, pain I might better call it, of seeing you last night in the new Play. It was a most consummate piece of Acting, but what a task for you to undergo! at a time when your heart is sore from real sorrow! it has given rise to a train of thinking, which I cannot suppress.

Would to God you were released from this way of life; that you could bring your mind to consent to take your lot with us, and throw off for ever the whole burden of your Profession. I neither expect or wish you to take notice of this which I am writing, in your present over occupied & hurried state.—But to think of it at your leisure. I have quite income enough, if that were all, to justify for me making such a proposal, with what I may call even a handsome provision for my survivor. What you possess of your own would naturally be appropriated to those, for whose sakes chiefly you have made so many hard sacrifices. I am not so foolish as not to know that I am a most unworthy match for such a one as you, but you have for years been a principal object in my mind. In many a sweet assumed character I have learned to love you, but simply as F. M. Kelly I love you better than them all. Can you quit these shadows of existence, & come & be a reality to us? can you leave off harassing yourself to please a thankless multitude,
who know nothing of you, & begin at last to live to yourself & your friends?

As plainly & frankly as I have seen you give or refuse assent in some feigned scene, so frankly do me the justice to answer me. It is impossible I should feel injured or aggrieved by your telling me at once, that the proposal does not suit you. It is impossible that I should ever think of molesting you with idle importunity and persecution after your mind [was] once firmly spoken—but happier, far happier, could I have leave to hope a time might come, when our friends might be your friends; our interests yours; our book-knowledge, if in that inconsiderable particular we have any little advantage, might impart something to you, which you would every day have it in your power ten thousand fold to repay by the added cheerfulness and joy which you could not fail to bring as a dowry into whatever family should have the honor and happiness of receiving you, the most welcome accession that could be made to it.

In haste, but with entire respect & deepest affection, I subscribe myself

C. Lamb.

[It was known, on the authority of the late Mr. Charles Kent, that Fanny Kelly, the actress, had received an offer of marriage from Lamb; but my own impression was that it was made much later in life than this letter, first printed in 1903 by Mr. John Hollingshead, indicates. Miss Kelly, who at this time was engaged at the Lyceum, would be twenty-nine on October 15; Lamb was forty-four in February. His salary was now £600 a year.

Lamb had long admired Miss Kelly as an actress. In his Works, published in 1818, was this sonnet:—

You are not, Kelly, of the common strain,
That stoop their pride and female honour down
To please that many-headed beast the town,
And vend their lavish smiles and tricks for gain;
By fortune thrown amid the actors’ train,
You keep your native dignity of thought;
The plaudits that attend you come unsought.
As tributes due unto your natural vein.
Your tears have passion in them, and a grace
Of genuine freshness, which our hearts avow;
Your smiles are winds whose ways we cannot trace,
That vanish and return we know not how—
And please the better from a pensive face,
And thoughtful eye, and a reflecting brow.

That Lamb had been pondering his offer for some little time is suggested, Mr. Macdonald remarks, by a passage in one of his articles on Miss Kelly in The Examiner earlier in this
month, where he says of her as Rachel, in “
The Jovial Crew,” probably with full knowledge that it would meet her eye and be understood (a truly Elian method of love-lettering), “‘What a lass that were,’ said a stranger who sate beside us . . . ‘to go a gipseying through the world with.’”

This was Miss Kelly’s reply:—

Henrietta Street, July 20th, 1819.

An early & deeply rooted attachment has fixed my heart on one from whom no worldly prospect can well induce me to withdraw it but while I thus frankly & decidedly decline your proposal, believe me, I am not insensible to the high honour which the preference of such a mind as yours confers upon me—let me, however, hope that all thought upon this subject will end with this letter, & that you will henceforth encourage no other sentiment towards me than esteem in my private character and a continuance of that approbation of my humble talents which you have already expressed so much & so often to my advantage and gratification.

Believe me I feel proud to acknowledge myself

Your obliged friend
F. M. Kelly.

Lamb at once wrote again, as follows:—]

July 20th, 1819.

DEAR Miss Kelly,—Your injunctions shall be obeyed to a tittle. I feel myself in a lackadaisacal no-how-ish kind of a humour. I believe it is the rain, or something. I had thought to have written seriously, but I fancy I succeed best in epistles of mere fun; puns & that nonsense. You will be good friends with us, will you not? let what has past “break no bones” between us. You will not refuse us them next time we send for them?

Yours very truly,
C. L.

Do you observe the delicacy of not signing my full name? N.B. Do not paste that last letter of mine into your Book.


[Writing again of Miss Kelly, in the “Hypocrite,” in The Examiner of August 1 and 2, Lamb says: “She is in truth not framed to tease or torment even in jest, but to utter a hearty Yes or No; to yield or refuse assent with a noble sincerity. We have not the pleasure of being acquainted with her, but we have been told that she carries the same cordial manners into private life.”

Miss Kelly died unmarried at the age of ninety-two.

“Break no bones.” Here Lamb makes one of his puns. By “bones” he meant also the little ivory discs which were given to
friends of the management, entitling them to free entry to the theatre. With this explanation the next sentence of the letter becomes clear.

See Appendix II., page 973, for a letter to S. J. Arnold.]

[No date. ? Summer, 1819.]

DR C. Your sonnet is capital. The Paper ingenious, only that it split into 4 parts (besides a side splinter) in the carriage. I have transferred it to the common English Paper, manufactured of rags, for better preservation. I never knew before how the Iliad and Odyssey were written. Tis strikingly corroborated by observations on Cats. These domestic animals, put ’em on a rug before the fire, wink their eyes up and listen to the Kettle, and then purr, which is their Poetry.

On Sunday week we kiss your hands (if they are clean). This next Sunday I have been engaged for some time.

With remembces to your good Host and Hostess

Yours ever
C. Lamb.

[The sonnet was Coleridge’sFancy in Nubibus; or, The Poet in the Clouds,” printed in Blackwood, November, 1819, but now sent to Lamb in manuscript, apparently on some curious kind of paper.

This is the sonnet:—
O! it is pleasant, with a heart at ease,
Just after sunset, or by moonlight skies,
To make the shifting clouds be what you please,
Or let the easily persuaded eyes
Own each quaint likeness issuing from the mould
Of a friend’s fancy; or with head bent low
And cheek aslant see rivers flow of gold
’Twixt crimson banks; and then, a traveller, go
From mount to mount through Cloudland, gorgeous land!
Or, list’ning to the tide, with closed sight,
Be that blind bard, who on the Chian strand
By those deep sounds possessed with inward light,
Beheld the Iliad and the Odyssee
Rise to the swelling of the voiceful sea.
See Letter 243 on page 537.


Possibly it is to this summer that an undated note to Crabb Robinson belongs (in the Dr. Williams’ Library) in which Lamb says they are setting out to see Lord Braybrooke’s house at Audley End.]

[No date. Autumn, 1819.]

DR Tom, Do not come to us on Thursday, for we are moved into country lodgings, tho’ I am still at the India house in the mornings. See Marshall and Captain Betham as soon as ever you can. I fear leave cannot be obtained at the India house for your going to India. If you go it must be as captain’s clerk, if such a thing could be obtain’d.

For God’s sake keep your present place and do not give it up, or neglect it; as you perhaps will not be able to go to India, and you see how difficult of attainment situations are.

Yours truly
C. Lamb.

[Thomas Holcroft was the son of Lamb’s friend, the dramatist. Apparently he did not take Lamb’s advice, for he lost his place, which was some small Parliamentary post under John Rickman, in November, 1819. Crabb Robinson, Anthony Robinson and Lamb took up the matter and subscribed money, and Holcroft went out to India.]

[Dated at end: Nov. 3, 1819.]

DEAR Sir—It is so long since I have seen or heard from you, that I fear that you will consider a request I have to make as impertinent. About three years since, when I was one day at Bristol, I made an effort to see you, but you were from home. The request I have to make is, that you would very much oblige me, if you have any small portrait of yourself, by allowing me to have it copied, to accompany a selection of “Likenesses of Living Bards”
which a most particular friend of mine is making. If you have no objections, and could oblige me by transmitting such portrait to me at No. 44 Russell Street, Covent Garden, I will answer for taking the greatest care of it, and returning it safely the instant the Copier has done with it. I hope you will pardon the liberty

From an old friend
and well-wisher,
Charles Lamb.
London 5th Nov. 1819.

[Lamb’s visit to Bristol was made probably when he was staying at Calne with the Morgans in 1816. The present letter refers to an extra illustrated copy of Byron’s English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, which was being made by William Evans, of The Pamphleteer, and which is now in the British Museum. Owing to Cottle’s hostility to Byron, and Byron’s scorn of Cottle, Lamb could hardly explain the nature of the book more fully. See note to the following letter.]

[Not dated. ? Late 1819.]

DEAR Sir—My friend whom you have obliged by the loan of your picture, having had it very exactly copied (and a very spirited Drawing it is, as every one thinks that has seen it—the copy is not much inferior, done by a daughter of Josephs, R.A.)—he purposes sending you back the original, which I must accompany with my warm thanks, both for that, and your better favor, the “Messiah,” which, I assure you, I have read thro’ with great pleasure; the verses have great sweetness and a New Testament-plainness about them which affected me very much.

I could just wish that in page 63 you had omitted the lines 71 and 72, and had ended the period with
“The willowy brook was there, but that sweet sound—
When to be heard again on Earthly ground?”—
two very sweet lines, and the sense perfect.

And in page 154, line 68, “I come ordained a world to save,”—these words are hardly borne out by the story, and seem scarce accordant with the modesty with which our Lord came to take his common portion among the Baptismal Candidates. They also anticipate the beauty of John’s recognition of the Messiah, and the subsequent confirmation from the voice and Dove.


You will excuse the remarks of an old brother bard, whose career, though long since pretty well stopt, was coeval in its beginning with your own, and who is sorry his lot has been always to be so distant from you. It is not likely that C. L. will ever see Bristol again; but, if J. C. should ever visit London, he will be a most welcome visitor to C. L.

My sister joins in cordial remembrances and I request the favor of knowing, at your earliest opportunity, whether the Portrait arrives safe, the glass unbroken &c. Your glass broke in its coming.

Morgan is a little better—can read a little, &c.; but cannot join Mrs. M. till the Insolvent Act (or whatever it is called) takes place. Then, I hope, he will stand clear of all debts. Meantime, he has a most exemplary nurse and kind Companion in Miss Brent.

Once more, Dr Sir,
Yours truly
C. Lamb.

[Cottle sent Lamb a miniature of himself by Branwhite, which had been copied in monochrome for Mr. Evans’ book. G. J. Joseph, A.R.A., made a coloured drawing of Lamb for the same work. It serves as frontispiece to Vol. I. of the present edition. Byron’s lines refer as a matter of fact not to Joseph but to Amos Cottle:—
O, Amos Cottle!—Phoebus! what a name.
and so forth. Mr. Evans, however, dispensed with Amos. Another grangerised edition of the same satire, also in the British Museum, compiled by
W. M. Tartt, has an engraving of Amos Cottle and two portraits of Lamb—the Hancock drawing, and the Brook Pulham caricature. Byron’s lines touching Lamb ran thus:—
Yet let them not to vulgar Wordsworth stoop,
The meanest object of the lowly group,
Whose verse, of all but childish prattle void,
Seems blessed harmony to Lambe and Lloyd.
A footnote states that Lamb and Lloyd are the most ignoble followers of
Southey & Co.

Cottle’s Messiah, of which the earlier portion had been published long since, was completed in 1815. Canon Ainger says that lines 71 and 72 in Lamb’s copy (not that of 1815), following upon the couplet quoted, were:—
(While sorrow gave th’ involuntary tear)
Had ceased to vibrate on our listening ear.

Coleridge’s friend Morgan had just come upon evil times. Subsequently Lamb and Southey united in helping him to the extent of £10 a year each.]

[p.m. 25 Nov., 1819.]

DEAR Miss Wordsworth, You will think me negligent, but I wanted to see more of Willy, before I ventured to express a prediction. Till yesterday I had barely seen him—Virgilium Tantum Vidi—but yesterday he gave us his small company to a bullock’s heart—and I can pronounce him a lad of promise. He is no pedant nor bookworm, so far I can answer. Perhaps he has hitherto paid too little attention to other men’s inventions, preferring, like Lord Foppington, the “natural sprouts of his own.” But he has observation, and seems thoroughly awake. I am ill at remembering other people’s bon mots, but the following are a few. Being taken over Waterloo Bridge, he remarked that if we had no mountains, we had a fine river at least, which was a Touch of the Comparative, but then he added, in a strain which augured less for his future abilities as a Political Economist, that he supposed they must take at least a pound a week Toll. Like a curious naturalist he inquired if the tide did not come up a little salty. This being satisfactorily answered, he put another question as to the flux and reflux, which being rather cunningly evaded than artfully solved by that she-Aristotle Mary, who muttered something about its getting up an hour sooner and sooner every day, he sagely replied, “Then it must come to the same thing at last” which was a speech worthy of an infant Halley! The Lion in the ’Change by no means came up to his ideal standard. So impossible it is for Nature in any of her works to come up to the standard of a child’s imagination. The whelps (Lionets) he was sorry to find were dead, and on particular enquiry his old friend the Ouran Outang had gone the way of all flesh also. The grand Tiger was also sick, and expected in no short time to exchange this transitory world for another—or none. But again, there was a Golden Eagle (I do not mean that of Charing) which did much arride and console him. William’s genius, I take it, leans a little to the figurative, for being at play at Tricktrack (a kind of minor Billiard-table which we keep for smaller wights, and sometimes refresh our own mature fatigues with taking a hand at), not being able to hit a ball he had iterate aimed at, he cried out, “I cannot hit that beast”. Now the balls are usually called men, but he felicitously hit upon a middle term, a term of approximation and imaginative reconciliation, a something where the two ends, of the brute matter (ivory) and their human and rather violent
personification into men, might meet, as I take it, illustrative of that Excellent remark in a certain
Preface about Imagination, explaining “like a sea-beast that had crawled forth to sun himself.” Not that I accuse William Minor of hereditary plagiary, or conceive the image to have come ex traduce. Rather he seemeth to keep aloof from any source of imitation, and purposely to remain ignorant of what mighty poets have done in this kind before him. For being asked if his father had ever been on Westminster Bridge, he answer’d that he did not know.

It is hard to discern the Oak in the Acorn, or a Temple like St. Paul’s in the first stone which is laid, nor can I quite prefigure what destination the genius of William Minor hath to take. Some few hints I have set down, to guide my future observations. He hath the power of calculation in no ordinary degree for a chit. He combineth figures, after the first boggle, rapidly. As in the Tricktrack board, where the hits are figured, at first he did not perceive that 15 and 7 made 22, but by a little use he could combine 8 with 25—and 33 again with 16, which approacheth something in kind (far let me be from flattering him by saying in degree) to that of the famous American boy. I am sometimes inclined to think I perceive the future satirist in him, for he hath a sub-sardonic smile which bursteth out upon occasion, as when he was asked if London were as big as Ambleside, and indeed no other answer was given, or proper to be given, to so ensnaring and provoking a question. In the contour of scull certainly I discern something paternal. But whether in all respects the future man shall transcend his father’s fame, Time the trier of geniuses must decide. Be it pronounced peremptorily at present, that Willy is a well-mannerd child, and though no great student, hath yet a lively eye for things that lie before him. Given in haste from my desk at Leadenhall. Your’s and yours’ most sincerely

C. Lamb.

[This letter, which refers to a visit paid to the Lambs in Great Russell Street by Wordsworth’s son, William, then nine years old, is remarkable, apart from its charm and humour, for containing more of the absolute method of certain of Lamb’s Elia passages than anything he had yet written.

Virgilium tantum vidi” (Ovid, Trist., IV., 10, 51)—“Virgil I saw and no more.” The same quotation is in the Elia essay “Amicus Redivivus.”

“Lord Foppington”—in Vanbrugh’sRelapse.” Lamb used this speech as the motto of his Elia essay “Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading.”

“Halley”—Edmund Halley (1656-1742), the astronomer.


“The Lion in the ‘Change”—Exeter Change.

“Arride.” A favourite old word with Lamb. To gratify, to delight. From ar = ad, to; and ridere to laugh.

“Like a sea-beast.” Lamb alludes to the preface to the edition of 1815 of Wordsworth’s poems, where he quotes illustratively from his “Resolution and Independence”:—
Like a sea-beast crawled forth, that on a shelf
Of rock or sand reposeth, there to sun itself.

“If his father had ever been on Westminster Bridge.” An allusion to Wordsworth’s sonnet “Composed on Westminster Bridge”:—
Earth has not anything to show more fair.

“The American boy.” This was Zerah Colburn, the mathematical prodigy, born in Vermont State in 1804 and exhibited in America and Europe by his father.]