LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

My Friends and Acquaintance
Charles Lamb VII

Vol I Contents
Charles Lamb I
Charles Lamb II
Charles Lamb III
Charles Lamb IV
Charles Lamb V
Charles Lamb VI
‣ Charles Lamb VII
Charles Lamb VIII
Charles Lamb IX
Charles Lamb X
Thomas Campbell I
Thomas Campbell II
Thomas Campbell III
Thomas Campbell IV
Thomas Campbell V
Thomas Campbell VI
Thomas Campbell VII
Lady Blessington I
Lady Blessington II
Lady Blessington III
Lady Blessington IV
Lady Blessington V
R. Plumer Ward I
R. Plumer Ward II
R. Plumer Ward III
R. Plumer Ward IV
R. Plumer Ward V
R. Plumer Ward VI
Appendix vol I
Vol II Contents
R. Plumer Ward VII
R. Plumer Ward VIII
R. Plumer Ward IX
R. Plumer Ward X
R. Plumer Ward XI
R. Plumer Ward XII
R. Plumer Ward XIII
R. Plumer Ward XIV
R. Plumer Ward XV
R. Plumer Ward XVI
R. Plumer Ward XVII
R. Plumer Ward XVIII
R. Plumer Ward XIX
R. Plumer Ward XX
R. Plumer Ward XXI
R. Plumer Ward XXII
R. Plumer Ward XXIII
Horace & James Smith I
Horace & James Smith II
William Hazlitt I
William Hazlitt II
William Hazlitt III
William Hazlitt IV
William Hazlitt V
William Hazlitt VI
William Hazlitt VII
William Hazlitt VIII
Appendix vol II
Vol III Contents
William Hazlitt IX
William Hazlitt X
William Hazlitt XI
William Hazlitt XII
William Hazlitt XIII
William Hazlitt XIV
William Hazlitt XV
William Hazlitt XVI
William Hazlitt XVII
William Hazlitt XVIII
William Hazlitt XIX
William Hazlitt XX
William Hazlitt XXI
William Hazlitt XXII
William Hazlitt XXIII
William Hazlitt XXIV
William Hazlitt XXV
William Hazlitt XXVI
Laman Blanchard I
Laman Blanchard II
Laman Blanchard III
Laman Blanchard IV
Laman Blanchard V
Laman Blanchard VI
Laman Blanchard VII
Laman Blanchard VIII
R & T Sheridan I
R & T Sheridan II
R & T Sheridan III
R & T Sheridan IV
R & T Sheridan V
R & T Sheridan VI
R & T Sheridan VII
R & T Sheridan VIII
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From much that I Lave said of Charles Lamb it will have been gathered that he was little qualified, either by temperament or habits, to live in what is called “the world.” It may seem paradoxical to say so, but he was quite as little qualified to live out of it. In some sort wedded both to solitude and to society, so far from being able to make himself “happy with either,” each was equally incapable of filling and satisfying his affections. The truth is that, deep and yet gentle as those affections were, his daily life gave token that in their early development they had received a sinister bias which never afterwards quitted them—perchance a blow which struck them from the just centre on which they seemed to have been originally destined
to revolve, in a circle of the most perfect beauty and harmony.*

Those of Lamb’s friends who felt a real and deep interest in his intellectual character, and its results on his personal happiness, must, I think, have seen this influence at work in almost every movement of his mind and heart, as these developed themselves in his ordinary life and conversation; for in his published writings the evidences I allude to do not appear, at least in any distinct and tangible form. There, in short, and there only, was Charles Lamb his own man—his early, natural, original self; as indeed is almost always the case with those men who possess that peculiar idiosyncrasy which is indicated by the term genius.

It would be a task as difficult as delicate, to adduce detailed evidence of the peculiar condition of mind and heart, in Charles Lamb, to which I have just alluded; but I think that some, at least, of his intimates, will call to mind such evidence, especially in connexion with the last few years of his life. I appeal to those intimates whether they ever

* See note to p. 73.

saw Lamb wholly at his ease for half an hour together—wholly free from that restlessness which is incompatible with mental tranquillity; whether they ever saw him wrapt in that deep and calm repose, in the absence of which there can be no actual, soul-felt satisfaction.

If, indeed, they have seen him alone in his book room—he unknowing of their presence—hanging in rapt sympathy over the tattered pages of one of his beloved old folios, perchance, quietly disentangling some ineffable mystery in “Heywood’s Hierarchy of Angels,” or listening with his mind’s ear to the solemn music breathing from the funereal organ of Sir Thomas Browne’s Urn-burial—they may have seen him in a condition of mind analogous to that self-centred repose which is the soul of human happiness, but is not identical with it.

It is not the less true that Lamb was, for the moment, delighted at the advent of an unlooked-for friend, even though he was thereby interrupted in the midst of one of these beatific communings. But they must have read his character ill, or with little in-
terest, who did not perceive that, after the pleasant excitement of the moment was over, he became restless, uneasy, and “busied about many things”—about anything, rather than the settling down quietly into a condition of mind or temper, even analogous to that from which the new arrival had irretrievably roused him, for that day at least. Feeling the unseasonable disturbance as such, yet not for a moment admitting it to be such, even to himself, he became over-anxious to show you how welcome you were,—doing half-a-dozen things in a breath, to prove the feeling,—every one of which, if read aright, proved something very like the reverse. If it happened to be about dinner-time, he would go into the kitchen to see if it was ready, or put on his hat and go out to order an additional supply of porter, or open a bottle of wine and pour some out,—taking a glass himself to set you the example, as he innocently imagined,—but, in reality, to fortify himself for the task of hospitality that you had imposed upon him; anything, in fact, but sit quietly down by the fire, and enjoy your company, or let you enjoy his. And if
you happened to arrive when dinner or tea was over, he was perfectly fidgety, and almost cross, till you were fairly seated at the meal which he and his excellent sister insisted on providing for you, whether you would or not.

It is true that, by the time all these preliminaries were over, he had recovered his ease, and was really glad to see you; and if you had come to stay the night, when the shutters were shut, and the candles came, and you were comfortably seated round the fire, he was evidently pleased and bettered by the occasion thus afforded for a dish of cosey table-talk. But not the less true is it that every knock at the door sent a pang to his heart; and this without any distinction of persons: whoever it might be, he equally welcomed and wished them away; and all for the same reason—namely, that they called him from the company of his own thoughts, or those still better communings with the thoughts of his dead friends, with whom he could hold an intercourse unclogged by any actual bodily presence.

In these respects, Lamb resembled the lover
Martial’s epigram: he could neither live with his friends, nor without them. If they stayed away from him long, he was hurt and angry; and when they went to him, he was put out.

I believe these contradictory feelings of Lamb in regard to the visits of his friends, to have been in a great measure the secret of his daily and interminable rambles, which he pursued without aim or object, and certainly without any care about the scenes of external nature they might bring before him; for, as I have said, he was anything but fond of the country for itself, and took no sort of pleasure in any of the pursuits and amusements connected with it. Even a garden he was more than indifferent about. If compelled to walk in one, he could no more have confined himself to the regular walks than a bird could, and had it been his own, he would have trampled it all into one plot in a week. The garden attached to the cottage they first took at Enfield Chace was in the condition of a school play-ground—never having been touched by spade or hoe for the two years they occupied the place. In short, if such
a truth may be told of one who was after all a true poet, Lamb was more than indifferent about flowers—he almost disliked them. In the world, as at present constituted, a man like Charles Lamb must hate something; and for him (Lamb) to hate a human being, or indeed any sentient being—even an adder or a toad—was impossible to his nature. Is it, then, speculating too curiously on his singularly-constituted mind and heart to suppose that he may have gone to the opposite extreme—for he lived in extremes—and hated that which seems made only to be loved, and which all the world fancy they love, or pretend to do, because they can find nothing in them to move their hate—flowers, fields, and the face of external nature?

Before quitting this perhaps too-speculative portion of my Recollections of Charles Lamb, I must remind his earlier and older friends that my knowledge of him extended only over the last nine or ten years of his life: and every lustre that he lived made him in many respects a new man.*

* The greater part of the foregoing pages, and all the above speculative view of a certain phase of Lamb’s in-


tellectual character, were written, precisely as they now stand, almost immediately after his death, and in total ignorance of those awful circumstances the disclosure of which gives such a terrible interest to the “Final Memorials” of the late Mr. Justice Talfourd. This disclosure most sadly and strangely confirms my conjectural interpretation of certain features of his character and bearing, which were more or less self-contradictory even to those of his most intimate friends who (like myself) were mercifully kept in ignorance of the events of his early life.

The tragic catastrophe disclosed by these “Final Memorials” is thus described in a brief letter from Charles Lamb himself to Coleridge:—

“Sept. 27, 1796.

“My Dearest Friend,—“White, or some of my friends, or the public newspapers, by this time may have informed you of the dreadful calamity that has fallen upon our family. * * * My poor, dear, dearest sister, in a fit of insanity, has been the death of her own mother. I was at hand only time enough to snatch the knife out of her grasp. She is at present in a madhouse. * * * My poor father was slightly wounded. * * * I charge you, don’t think of coming to see me. Write. I will not see you if you come. God Almighty love you and all of us.

C. Lamb.”

Lamb’s eloquent biographer, at the close of his work, beautifully moralizes, and (in the best sense of the word) “improves” this terrible event as follows:—

“Before bidding them (Charles and Mary Lamb) a lasting adieu, we may be allowed to linger a little longer, and survey their characters by the new and solemn lights which are now, for the first time, fully cast upon them. Except to the few who were acquainted with the tragical occurrences of Lamb’s early life, some


of his peculiarities seemed strange—to be forgiven, indeed, to the excellencies of his nature and the delicacy of his genius, but still in themselves as much to be wondered at as deplored. The sweetness of his character, breathed through his writings, was felt even by strangers; but its heroic aspect was unguessed even by many of his friends. Let them now consider it, and ask if the annals of self-sacrifice can show anything in human action and endurance more lovely than its self-devotion exhibits. It was not merely that he saw, through the ensanguined cloud that had fallen upon his family, the unstained excellence of his sister whose madness had caused it; that he was ready to take her to his own house with reverential affection, and cherish her through life; that he gave up for her sake all meaner and more selfish love, and all the hopes which youth blends with the passion which disturbs and ennobles it; not even that he did all this cheerfully, and without pluming himself upon his brotherly nobleness as a virtue, or seeking to repay himself (as many uneasy martyrs do) by small instalments of long repining; but he carried the spirit of the hour in which he first knew and took his course to the last. . . . . Let it also be remembered, that this devotion of the entire nature was not exercised merely in the consciousness of a past tragedy, but during the frequent recurrences of the calamity which caused it, and the constant apprehension of its terrors, and this for a large portion of life in poor lodgings, where the brother and sister were, or fancied they were, ‘marked: people;’ where, from an income incapable of meeting the expense of the sorrow without sedulous privations, he continued to hoard, not for holiday enjoyment or future solace, but to provide for expected distress.”

Two of the anecdotes related by Sir T. N. Talfourd,


in connexion with this periodically-recurring calamity, are so touchingly beautiful, that the pain excited by them is merged, almost at the moment of its birth, in the divine pity which is twin-born with it. “The constant impendency of this giant sorrow saddened to the Lambs even their holidays, as the journey which they both regarded as the relief and charm of the year was frequently followed by a seizure; and when they ventured to take it, a strait-waistcoat, carefully packed by Miss Lamb herself, was their constant companion.”

“On one occasion Mr. Charles Lloyd met them slowly pacing together a little footpath in Hoxton fields, both weeping bitterly, and found, on joining them, that they were taking their solemn way to the accustomed asylum.”

This dreadful catastrophe of Lamb’s early life (it happened when he was only twenty-one years of age, his sister being nearly ten years his senior) not merely explains all the seeming anomalies of his character, but, when coupled with his own heroic conduct under its pressure, lets us into the secret of his wonderful perception of the scope and bearing of those scarcely more horrible scenes of some of the old dramatists, which he was the first to appreciate and point out in those celebrated “Specimens,” which created an epoch in our critical literature. That, for instance, in the Broken Heart of Ford, where Calantha remains calm and impassible under the repeated blows by which she is nevertheless stricken unto death, was scarcely known among living readers, and where known was regarded as forced and extravagant, until Lamb saw and felt that it was true as the death-in-life that it depicted.