The 19th century was a great century for writers. If I could only bring one century of writing with me to a desert island, I would choose the nineteenth without hesitation. Not only for the literature but for the essays: the essayists of the 19th century were wide-ranging in their interests and witty, smart, and wildly and passionately involved with the world they wrote about. They immersed themselves in all sorts of activities, writing being only one their passions, and arguing — discussion and disputation — being the foremost. They ranged from deeply pessimistic (Thomas Carlyle) to profoundly positive (Ralph Waldo Emerson), and they wrote about everything from law and society (Oliver Wendell Holmes) to travels abroad and at home (Washington Irving), to art and politics (John Ruskin) to self-knowledge and civil responsibility (Henry David Thoreau).
My two favorite essayists of the 19th century (or any century, for that matter) are William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb. They wrote about everything and anything, and they wrote well, with passion and with discipline, and with complexity of argument, acuity of observation, and deliverance of truth. Yesterday I read a 1913 collection of Charles Lamb’s essays, entitled Last Essays of Elia. His first Essays of Elia was published in 1823 and his Last Essays of Elia was first published in 1833. In his absolutely marvelous essays, Lamb writes about life in all its humble and daily, as well as unique and grandiloquent, occasions. No matter that he wrote from two centuries past: so many of his observations of human nature, predilections, and pastimes are still true today. Those comments of his that are dated are still fun to read, as when he decries the “modern” art of John Martin and his 1821 painting “Belshazzar’s Feast”. Lamb was right-on his criticisms, the painting is histrionic, and I would love to read what Lamb would write about the lacerations of Pollock or the cubes of Picasso or the shark of Damien Hirst.
Lamb’s detailed but straightforward descriptions of interiors and of landscapes (as in “Blakesmoor in H–Shire”) are evocative time capsules of England in the nineteenth century and a must-read for any lover of the English literature of the time, as he gives a perfect backdrop of information — what everyone reading at the time already knew — that helps with the atmosphere from the Brontes to Austen. His essays on other occasions and situations of his 19th century life also provide escape into that world with picture-perfect visual observations as well as commentary on the social mores of the time, as in “A Wedding”, “The Old Margate Hoy”, “Poor Relations”, and “Captain Jackson”.
Many of his observations are still topical, as well as relevant, as in the “The Tombs in the Abbey” in which he censures the charging of admissions fees into Westminster Abbey, at a cost of two shillings a head. Today’s burdensome fee of fifteen pounds falls as heavily and with as little reason. Lamb argues, “Did you ever see or hear, of a mob in the Abbey, while it was free to all? Do the rabble come there….It is all you can do to drive them into your churches; they do not voluntarily offer themselves. They have, alas! no passion for antiquities, for tomb of king or prelate, sage or poet. If they had, they would no longer be rabble.”
Lamb is a very clever and witty writer, as demonstrated by the above logic turning rabble into worthy abbey-visitors, and in such inventive and pleasurable essays as the must-read “Rejoicings Upon the New Year’s Coming of Age” in which all the days of the year gather at an end of year party. The jesting April Fool places Ash Wednesday next to Christmas Day who proceeds to make that sour puss Lent drink from “the wassail-bowl, till he roared, and hiccup’d“, and began to have a really good time; the poor 29th day of February has a seat off to the side and not enough to eat, and Valentine’s Day plays court to pretty May “slipping amorous billets-doux under the table, till the Dog-days (who are naturally of a warm constitution) began to be jealous, and to bark and rage accordingly.”
Another must-read essay that is both relevant, hysterically funny, and acute in its observations is “Popular Fallacies” wherein Lamb attempts to lay to rest such well-known quips of false wisdom as “Ill-Gotten Gains Never Prosper“, “Handsome is as Handsome Does” (“Those who use this phrase have never seen Mrs. Conrady“), and “Love me, love my dog” ( still so relevant, as a recent house guest proved to me).
I particularly liked his demolition of the saying “Enough is Good as a Feast“. He argues that no one “really believes this saying. The inventor did not believe it himself….It is a vile cold-scrag-of-mutton sophism; a lie palmed upon the palate, which knows better things.” He rightly lumps this saying in with the “class of proverbs which have a tendency to make us undervalue money” and seek to make us see gold as “mere muck.” Lamb argues that “legs and shoulders of mutton, exhilarating cordials, books, pictures, the opportunities of seeing foreign countries, independence, heart’s ease, a man’s own time to himself, are not muck.”
Lamb himself was a man not born to money; he worked for years as a clerk, took on the care of his ill sister, and in his spare time, wrote and read and enjoyed life. He understood money and what its true worth was, as he understood so many things in life. He was able to articulate in his essays all that he observed and thought about, to lay aside the mundane and accepted ideals and to instead develop and present original, exciting, and enlivening ways of thinking about the ordinary happenings and the exceptional, the minor occurrences and the major ones. Lamb was thorough in his examination of life, and in his enjoyment, and he was sought to share that understanding and enjoyment to others through his wide-ranging, free-wheeling, and yet wholly disciplined — and completely gratifying — Essays of Elia.
The Last Essays of Elia
Edited by E. V. Lucas
Text is based on The works of Charles and Mary Lamb, volume 2, edited by E.V. Lucas.
This web edition published by eBooks@Adelaide.
Last updated Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 18:43.
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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
- The South-Sea House
- Oxford in the Vacation
- Christ’s Hospital Five and Thirty Years Ago
- The Two Races of Men
- New Year’s Eve
- Mrs. Battle’s Opinions on Whist
- A Chapter on Ears
- All Fools’ Day
- A Quaker’s Meeting
- The Old and the New Schoolmaster
- Valentine’s Day
- Imperfect Sympathies
- Witches, and Other Night-Fears
- My Relations
- Mackery End, in Hertfordshire
- Modern Gallantry
- The Old Benchers of the Inner Temple
- Grace Before Meat
- My First Play
- Dream-Children; a Reverie
- Distant Correspondents; in a Letter to B.f. Esq. At Sydney, New South Wales
- The Praise of Chimney-Sweepers
- A Complaint of the Decay of Beggars in the Metropolis
- A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig
- A Bachelor’s Complaint of the Behaviour of Married People
- On Some of the Old Actors
- On the Artificial Comedy of the Last Century
- On the Acting of Munden
Notes to Elia
The Last Essays of Elia
- Blakesmoor in H——— Shire
- Poor Relations
- Stage Illusion
- To the Shade of Elliston
- Plaudito, Et Valeto
- Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading
- The Old Margate Hoy
- The Convalescent
- Sanity of True Genius
- Captain Jackson
- The Superannuated Man
- The Genteel Style in Writing
- Barbara S——
- The Tombs in the Abbey; in a Letter to R—— S— — Esq.
- Amicus Redivivus
- Some Sonnets of Sir Philip Sydney
- Newspapers Thirty-Five Years Ago
- Barrenness of the Imaginative Faculty in the Productions of Modern Art
- Rejoicings Upon the New Year’s Coming of Age
- The Wedding
- The Child Angel A Dream
- A Death-Bed In a Letter to R.H. Esq. of B——
- Old China
- Popular Fallacies
- i. — That a Bully is Always a Coward
- ii. — That ill-Gotten Gain Never Prospers
- iii. — That a Man Must Not Laugh at His Own Jest
- iv. — That Such a One Shows His Breeding. — That it is Easy to Perceive he is No Gentleman
- v. — That the Poor Copy the Vices of the Rich
- vi. — That Enough is as Good as a Feast
- vii. — Of Two Disputants, the Warmest is Generally in the Wrong
- viii. — That Verbal Allusions are Not Wit, Because They Will Not Bear a Translation
- ix. — That the Worst Puns are the Best
- x. — That Handsome is that Handsome Does
- xi. — That We Must Not Look a Gift-Horse in the Mouth
- xii. — That Home is Home Though it is Never So Homely
- xiii. — That You Must Love Me, and Love My Dog
- xiv. — That We Should Rise with the Lark
- xv. — That We Should Lie Down with the Lamb
- xvi. — That a Sulky Temper is a Misfortune
Notes to The Last Essays of Elia
Appendix Lamb’s essays on “The Old Actors” as originally printed in the London Magazine.
- On Some of the Old Actors (London Magazine, Feb., 1822)
- The Old Actors (London Magazine, April, 1822)
- The Old Actors (London Magazine, October, 1822)
- Mr. Suett
- Mr. Munden
This volume contains the work by which Charles Lamb is best known and upon which his fame will rest —Elia and The Last Essays of Elia. Although one essay is as early as 1811, and one is perhaps as late as 1832, the book represents the period between 1820 and 1826, when Lamb was between forty-five and fifty-one. This was the richest period of his literary life.
The text of the present volume is that of the first edition of each book —Elia, 1823, and The Last Essays of Elia, 1833. The principal differences between the essays as they were printed in the London Magazine and elsewhere, and as they were revised for book form by their author, are shown in the Notes, which, it should be pointed out, are much fuller in my large edition. The three-part essay on “The Old Actors” (London Magazine, February, April, and October, 1822), from which Lamb prepared the three essays; “On Some of the Old Actors,” “The Artificial Comedy of the Last Century,” and “The Acting of Munden,” is printed in the Appendix as it first appeared. The absence of the “Confessions of a Drunkard” from this volume is due to the fact that Lamb did not include it in the first edition of The Last Essays of Elia. It was inserted later, in place of “A Death–Bed,” on account of objections that were raised to that essay by the family of Randal Norris. The story is told in the notes to “A Death–Bed.” The “Confessions of a Drunkard” will be found in Vol. I.
In Mr. Bedford’s design for the cover of this edition certain Elian symbolism will be found. The upper coat of arms is that of Christ’s Hospital, where Lamb was at school; the lower is that of the Inner Temple, where he was born and spent many years. The figures at the bells are those which once stood out from the façade of St. Dunstan’s Church in Fleet Street, and are now in Lord Londesborough’s garden in Regent’s Park. Lamb shed tears when they were removed. The tricksy sprite and the candles (brought by Betty) need no explanatory words of mine.
From a Drawing by Daniel Maclise, now preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
(From the 1st Edition, 1823)
Reader, in thy passage from the Bank — where thou hast been receiving thy half-yearly dividends (supposing thou art a lean annuitant like myself)— to the Flower Pot, to secure a place for Dalston, or Shacklewell, or some other thy suburban retreat northerly — didst thou never observe a melancholy looking, handsome, brick and stone edifice, to the left — where Threadneedle-street abuts upon Bishopsgate? I dare say thou hast often admired its magnificent portals ever gaping wide, and disclosing to view a grave court, with cloisters and pillars, with few or no traces of goers-in or comers-out — a desolation something like Balclutha’s.1
This was once a house of trade — a centre of busy interests. The throng of merchants was here — the quick pulse of gain — and here some forms of business are still kept up, though the soul be long since fled. Here are still to be seen stately porticos; imposing staircases; offices roomy as the state apartments in palaces — deserted, or thinly peopled with a few straggling clerks; the still more sacred interiors of court and committee rooms, with venerable faces of beadles, door-keepers — directors seated in form on solemn days (to proclaim a dead dividend,) at long worm-eaten tables, that have been mahogany, with tarnished gilt-leather coverings, supporting massy silver inkstands long since dry; — the oaken wainscots hung with pictures of deceased governors and sub-governors, of queen Anne, and the two first monarchs of the Brunswick dynasty; — huge charts, which subsequent discoveries have antiquated; — dusty maps of Mexico, dim as dreams — and soundings of the Bay of Panama! — The long passages hung with buckets, appended, in idle row, to walls, whose substance might defy any, short of the last, conflagration; — with vast ranges of cellarage under all, where dollars and pieces of eight once lay, an “unsunned heap,” for Mammon to have solaced his solitary heart withal — long since dissipated, or scattered into air at the blast of the breaking of that famous BUBBLE. —
Such is the SOUTH-SEA HOUSE. At least, such it was forty years ago, when I knew it — a magnificent relic! What alterations may have been made in it since, I have had no opportunities of verifying. Time, I take for granted, has not freshened it. No wind has resuscitated the face of the sleeping waters. A thicker crust by this time stagnates upon it. The moths, that were then battening upon its obsolete ledgers and day-books, have rested from their depredations, but other light generations have succeeded, making fine fretwork among their single and double entries. Layers of dust have accumulated (a superfoetation of dirt!) upon the old layers, that seldom used to be disturbed, save by some curious finger, now and then, inquisitive to explore the mode of book-keeping in Queen Anne’s reign; or, with less hallowed curiosity, seeking to unveil some of the mysteries of that tremendous HOAX, whose extent the petty peculators of our day look back upon with the same expression of incredulous admiration, and hopeless ambition of rivalry, as would become the puny face of modern conspiracy contemplating the Titan size of Vaux’s superhuman plot.
Peace to the manes of the BUBBLE! Silence and destitution are upon thy walls, proud house, for a memorial!
Situated as thou art, in the very heart of stirring and living commerce — amid the fret and fever of speculation — with the Bank, and the ‘Change, and the India-house about thee, in the hey-day of present prosperity, with their important faces, as it were, insulting thee, their poor neighbour out of business— to the idle and merely contemplative — to such as me, old house! there is a charm in thy quiet:— a cessation — a coolness from business — an indolence almost cloistral — which is delightful! With what reverence have I paced thy great bare rooms and courts at eventide! They spoke of the past:— the shade of some dead accountant, with visionary pen in ear, would flit by me, stiff as in life. Living accounts and accountants puzzle me. I have no skill in figuring. But thy great dead tomes, which scarce three degenerate clerks of the present day could lift from their enshrining shelves — with their old fantastic flourishes, and decorative rubric interlacings — their sums in triple columniations, set down with formal superfluity of cyphers — with pious sentences at the beginning, without which our religious ancestors never ventured to open a book of business, or bill of lading — the costly vellum covers of some of them almost persuading us that we are got into some better library — are very agreeable and edifying spectacles. I can look upon these defunct dragons with complacency. Thy heavy odd-shaped ivory-handled penknives (our ancestors had every thing on a larger scale than we have hearts for) are as good as any thing from Herculaneum. The pounce-boxes of our days have gone retrograde.
The very clerks which I remember in the South–Sea House — I speak of forty years back — had an air very different from those in the public offices that I have had to do with since. They partook of the genius of the place!
They were mostly (for the establishment did not admit of superfluous salaries) bachelors. Generally (for they had not much to do) persons of a curious and speculative turn of mind. Old-fashioned, for a reason mentioned before. Humorists, for they were of all descriptions; and, not having been brought together in early life (which has a tendency to assimilate the members of corporate bodies to each other), but, for the most part, placed in this house in ripe or middle age, they necessarily carried into it their separate habits and oddities, unqualified, if I may so speak, as into a common stock. Hence they formed a sort of Noah’s ark. Odd fishes. A lay-monastery. Domestic retainers in a great house, kept more for show than use. Yet pleasant fellows, full of chat — and not a few among them had arrived at considerable proficiency on the German flute.
The cashier at that time was one Evans, a Cambro–Briton. He had something of the choleric complexion of his countrymen stamped on his visage, but was a worthy sensible man at bottom. He wore his hair, to the last, powdered and frizzed out, in the fashion which I remember to have seen in caricatures of what were termed, in my young days, Maccaronies. He was the last of that race of beaux. Melancholy as a gib-cat over his counter all the forenoon, I think I see him, making up his cash (as they call it) with tremulous fingers, as if he feared every one about him was a defaulter; in his hypochondry ready to imagine himself one; haunted, at least, with the idea of the possibility of his becoming one: his tristful visage clearing up a little over his roast neck of veal at Anderton’s at two (where his picture still hangs, taken a little before his death by desire of the master of the coffee-house, which he had frequented for the last five-and-twenty years), but not attaining the meridian of its animation till evening brought on the hour of tea and visiting. The simultaneous sound of his well-known rap at the door with the stroke of the clock announcing six, was a topic of never-failing mirth in the families which this dear old bachelor gladdened with his presence. Then was his forte, his glorified hour! How would he chirp, and expand, over a muffin! How would he dilate into secret history! His countryman, Pennant himself, in particular, could not be more eloquent than he in relation to old and new London — the site of old theatres, churches, streets gone to decay — where Rosamond’s pond stood — the Mulberry-gardens — and the Conduit in Cheap — with many a pleasant anecdote, derived from paternal tradition, of those grotesque figures which Hogarth has immortalized in his picture of Noon — the worthy descendants of those heroic confessors, who, flying to this country, from the wrath of Louis the Fourteenth and his dragoons, kept alive the flame of pure religion in the sheltering obscurities of Hog-lane, and the vicinity of the Seven Dials!
Deputy, under Evans, was Thomas Tame. He had the air and stoop of a nobleman. You would have taken him for one, had you met him in one of the passages leading to Westminster-hall. By stoop, I mean that gentle bending of the body forwards, which, in great men, must be supposed to be the effect of an habitual condescending attention to the applications of their inferiors. While he held you in converse, you felt strained to the height in the colloquy. The conference over, you were at leisure to smile at the comparative insignificance of the pretensions which had just awed you. His intellect was of the shallowest order. It did not reach to a saw or a proverb. His mind was in its original state of white paper. A sucking babe might have posed him. What was it then? Was he rich? Alas, no! Thomas Tame was very poor. Both he and his wife looked outwardly gentlefolks, when I fear all was not well at all times within. She had a neat meagre person, which it was evident she had not sinned in over-pampering; but in its veins was noble blood. She traced her descent, by some labyrinth of relationship, which I never thoroughly understood — much less can explain with any heraldic certainty at this time of day — to the illustrious, but unfortunate house of Derwentwater. This was the secret of Thomas’s stoop. This was the thought — the sentiment — the bright solitary star of your lives — ye mild and happy pair — which cheered you in the night of intellect, and in the obscurity of your station! This was to you instead of riches, instead of rank, instead of glittering attainments: and it was worth them altogether. You insulted none with it; but, while you wore it as a piece of defensive armour only, no insult likewise could reach you through it. Decus et solamen.
Of quite another stamp was the then accountant, John Tipp. He neither pretended to high blood, nor in good truth cared one fig about the matter. He “thought an accountant the greatest character in the world, and himself the greatest accountant in it.” Yet John was not without his hobby. The fiddle relieved his vacant hours. He sang, certainly, with other notes than to the Orphean lyre. He did, indeed, scream and scrape most abominably. His fine suite of official rooms in Threadneedle-street, which, without any thing very substantial appended to them, were enough to enlarge a man’s notions of himself that lived in them, (I know not who is the occupier of them now) resounded fortnightly to the notes of a concert of “sweet breasts,” as our ancestors would have called them, culled from club-rooms and orchestras — chorus singers — first and second violoncellos — double basses — and clarionets — who ate his cold mutton, and drank his punch, and praised his ear. He sate like Lord Midas among them. But at the desk Tipp was quite another sort of creature. Thence all ideas, that were purely ornamental, were banished. You could not speak of any thing romantic without rebuke. Politics were excluded. A newspaper was thought too refined and abstracted. The whole duty of man consisted in writing off dividend warrants. The striking of the annual balance in the company’s books (which, perhaps, differed from the balance of last year in the sum of 25l. 1s. 6d.) occupied his days and nights for a month previous. Not that Tipp was blind to the deadness of things (as they call them in the city) in his beloved house, or did not sigh for a return of the old stirring days when South Sea hopes were young —(he was indeed equal to the wielding of any the most intricate accounts of the most flourishing company in these or those days):— but to a genuine accountant the difference of proceeds is as nothing. The fractional farthing is as dear to his heart as the thousands which stand before it. He is the true actor, who, whether his part be a prince or a peasant, must act it with like intensity. With Tipp form was every thing. His life was formal. His actions seemed ruled with a ruler. His pen was not less erring than his heart. He made the best executor in the world: he was plagued with incessant executorships accordingly, which excited his spleen and soothed his vanity in equal ratios. He would swear (for Tipp swore) at the little orphans, whose rights he would guard with a tenacity like the grasp of the dying hand, that commended their interests to his protection. With all this there was about him a sort of timidity —(his few enemies used to give it a worse name)— a something which, in reverence to the dead, we will place, if you please, a little on this side of the heroic. Nature certainly had been pleased to endow John Tipp with a sufficient measure of the principle of self-preservation. There is a cowardice which we do not despise, because it has nothing base or treacherous in its elements; it betrays itself, not you: it is mere temperament; the absence of the romantic and the enterprising; it sees a lion in the way, and will not, with Fortinbras, “greatly find quarrel in a straw,” when some supposed honour is at stake. Tipp never mounted the box of a stage-coach in his life; or leaned against the rails of a balcony; or walked upon the ridge of a parapet; or looked down a precipice; or let off a gun; or went upon a water-party; or would willingly let you go if he could have helped it: neither was it recorded of him, that for lucre, or for intimidation, he ever forsook friend or principle.
Whom next shall we summon from the dusty dead, in whom common qualities become uncommon? Can I forget thee, Henry Man, the wit, the polished man of letters, the author, of the South–Sea House? who never enteredst thy office in a morning, or quittedst it in mid-day —(what didst thou in an office?)— without some quirk that left a sting! Thy gibes and thy jokes are now extinct, or survive but in two forgotten volumes, which I had the good fortune to rescue from a stall in Barbican, not three days ago, and found thee terse, fresh, epigrammatic, as alive. Thy wit is a little gone by in these fastidious days — thy topics are staled by the “new-born gauds” of the time:— but great thou used to be in Public Ledgers, and in Chronicles, upon Chatham, and Shelburne, and Rockingham, and Howe, and Burgoyne, and Clinton, and the war which ended in the tearing from Great Britain her rebellious colonies — and Keppel, and Wilkes, and Sawbridge, and Bull, and Dunning, and Pratt, and Richmond — and such small politics. —
A little less facetious, and a great deal more obstreperous, was fine rattling, rattleheaded Plumer. He was descended — not in a right line, reader, (for his lineal pretensions, like his personal, favoured a little of the sinister bend) from the Plumers of Hertfordshire. So tradition gave him out; and certain family features not a little sanctioned the opinion. Certainly old Walter Plumer (his reputed author) had been a rake in his days, and visited much in Italy, and had seen the world. He was uncle, bachelor-uncle, to the fine old whig still living, who has represented the county in so many successive parliaments, and has a fine old mansion near Ware. Walter flourished in George the Second’s days, and was the same who was summoned before the House of Commons about a business of franks, with the old Duchess of Marlborough. You may read of it in Johnson’s Life of Cave. Cave came off cleverly in that business. It is certain our Plumer did nothing to discountenance the rumour. He rather seemed pleased whenever it was, with all gentleness, insinuated. But, besides his family pretensions, Plumer was an engaging fellow, and sang gloriously. —
Not so sweetly sang Plumer as thou sangest, mild, child-like, pastoral M——; a flute’s breathing less divinely whispering than thy Arcadian melodies, when, in tones worthy of Arden, thou didst chant that song sung by Amiens to the banished Duke, which proclaims the winter wind more lenient than for a man to be ungrateful. Thy sire was old surly M—— the unapproachable church-warden of Bishopsgate. He knew not what he did, when he begat thee, like spring, gentle offspring of blustering winter:— only unfortunate in thy ending, which should have been mild, conciliatory, swan-like. —
Much remains to sing. Many fantastic shapes rise up, but they must be mine in private:— already I have fooled the reader to the top of his bent; — else could I omit that strange creature Woollett, who existed in trying the question, and bought litigations? — and still stranger, inimitable, solemn Hepworth, from whose gravity Newton might have deduced the law of gravitation. How profoundly would he nib a pen — with what deliberation would he wet a wafer! —
But it is time to close — night’s wheels are rattling fast over me — it is proper to have done with this solemn mockery.
Reader, what if I have been playing with thee all this while — peradventure the very names, which I have summoned up before thee, are fantastic — insubstantial — like Henry Pimpernel, and old John Naps of Greece:—
Be satisfied that something answering to them has had a being. Their importance is from the past.
1 I passed by the walls of Balclutha, and they were desolate. — Ossian.
Casting a preparatory glance at the bottom of this article — as the wary connoisseur in prints, with cursory eye (which, while it reads, seems as though it read not,) never fails to consult the quis sculpsit in the corner, before he pronounces some rare piece to be a Vivares, or a Woollet — methinks I hear you exclaim, Reader, Who is Elia?
Because in my last I tried to divert thee with some half-forgotten humours of some old clerks defunct, in an old house of business, long since gone to decay, doubtless you have already set me down in your mind as one of the self-same college — a votary of the desk — a notched and cropt scrivener — one that sucks his sustenance, as certain sick people are said to do, through a quill.
Well, I do agnize something of the sort. I confess that it is my humour, my fancy — in the forepart of the day, when the mind of your man of letters requires some relaxation —(and none better than such as at first sight seems most abhorrent from his beloved studies)— to while away some good hours of my time in the contemplation of indigos, cottons, raw silks, piece-goods, flowered or otherwise. In the first place ******* and then it sends you home with such increased appetite to your books ***** not to say, that your outside sheets, and waste wrappers of foolscap, do receive into them, most kindly and naturally, the impression of sonnets, epigrams, essays— so that the very parings of a counting-house are, in some sort, the settings up of an author. The enfranchised quill, that has plodded all the morning among the cart-rucks of figures and cyphers, frisks and curvets so at its ease over the flowery carpet-ground of a midnight dissertation. — It feels its promotion. ***** So that you see, upon the whole, the literary dignity of Elia is very little, if at all, compromised in the condescension.
Not that, in my anxious detail of the many commodities incidental to the life of a public office, I would be thought blind to certain flaws, which a cunning carper might be able to pick in this Joseph’s vest. And here I must have leave, in the fulness of my soul, to regret the abolition, and doing-away-with altogether, of those consolatory interstices, and sprinklings of freedom, through the four seasons — the red-letter days, now become, to all intents and purposes, dead-letter days. There was Paul, and Stephen, and Barnabas —
Andrew and John, men famous in old times
— we were used to keep all their days holy, as long back as I was at school at Christ’s. I remember their effigies, by the same token, in the old Baskett Prayer Book. There hung Peter in his uneasy posture — holy Bartlemy in the troublesome act of flaying, after the famous Marsyas by Spagnoletti. — I honoured them all, and could almost have wept the defalcation of Iscariot — so much did we love to keep holy memories sacred:— only methought I a little grudged at the coalition of the better Jude with Simon-clubbing (as it were) their sanctities together, to make up one poor gaudy-day between them — as an economy unworthy of the dispensation.
These were bright visitations in a scholar’s and a clerk’s life —“far off their coming shone.”— I was as good as an almanac in those days. I could have told you such a saint’s-day falls out next week, or the week after. Peradventure the Epiphany, by some periodical infelicity, would, once in six years, merge in a Sabbath. Now am I little better than one of the profane. Let me not be thought to arraign the wisdom of my civil superiors, who have judged the further observation of these holy tides to be papistical, superstitious.
Only in a custom of such long standing, methinks, if their Holinesses the Bishops had, in decency, been first sounded — but I am wading out of my depths. I am not the man to decide the limits of civil and ecclesiastical authority — I am plain Elia — no Selden, nor Archbishop Usher — though at present in the thick of their books, here in the heart of learning, under the shadow of the mighty Bodley.
I can here play the gentleman, enact the student. To such a one as myself, who has been defrauded in his young years of the sweet food of academic institution, nowhere is so pleasant, to while away a few idle weeks at, as one or other of the Universities. Their vacation, too, at this time of the year, falls in so pat with ours. Here I can take my walks unmolested, and fancy myself of what degree or standing I please. I seem admitted ad eundem. I fetch up past opportunities. I can rise at the chapel-bell, and dream that it rings for me. In moods of humility I can be a Sizar, or a Servitor. When the peacock vein rises, I strut a Gentleman Commoner. In graver moments, I proceed Master of Arts. Indeed I do not think I am much unlike that respectable character. I have seen your dim-eyed vergers, and bed-makers in spectacles, drop a bow or curtsy, as I pass, wisely mistaking me for something of the sort. I go about in black, which favours the notion. Only in Christ Church reverend quadrangle, I can be content to pass for nothing short of a Seraphic Doctor.
The walks at these times are so much one’s own — the tall trees of Christ’s, the groves of Magdalen! The halls deserted, and with open doors, inviting one to slip in unperceived, and pay a devoir to some Founder, or noble or royal Benefactress (that should have been ours) whose portrait seems to smile upon their over-looked beadsman, and to adopt me for their own. Then, to take a peep in by the way at the butteries, and sculleries, redolent of antique hospitality: the immense caves of kitchens, kitchen fire-places, cordial recesses; ovens whose first pies were baked four centuries ago; and spits which have cooked for Chaucer! Not the meanest minister among the dishes but is hallowed to me through his imagination, and the Cook goes forth a Manciple.
Antiquity! thou wondrous charm, what art thou? that, being nothing, art every thing! When thou wert, thou wert not antiquity — then thou wert nothing, but hadst a remoter antiquity, as thou called’st it, to look back to with blind veneration; thou thyself being to thyself flat, jejune, modern! What mystery lurks in this retroversion? or what half Januses2 are we, that cannot look forward with the same idolatry with which we for ever revert! The mighty future is as nothing, being every thing! the past is every thing, being nothing!
What were thy dark ages? Surely the sun rose as brightly then as now, and man got him to his work in the morning. Why is it that we can never hear mention of them without an accompanying feeling, as though a palpable obscure had dimmed the face of things, and that our ancestors wandered to and fro groping!
Above all thy rarities, old Oxenford, what do most arride and solace me, are thy repositories of mouldering learning, thy shelves —
What a place to be in is an old library! It seems as though all the souls of all the writers, that have bequeathed their labours to these Bodleians, were reposing here, as in some dormitory, or middle state. I do not want to handle, to profane the leaves, their winding-sheets. I could as soon dislodge a shade. I seem to inhale learning, walking amid their foliage; and the odour of their old moth-scented coverings is fragrant as the first bloom of those sciential apples which grew amid the happy orchard.
Still less have I curiosity to disturb the elder repose of MSS. Those variæ lectiones, so tempting to the more erudite palates, do but disturb and unsettle my faith. I am no Herculanean raker. The credit of the three witnesses might have slept unimpeached for me. I leave these curiosities to Porson, and to G.D. — whom, by the way, I found busy as a moth over some rotten archive, rummaged out of some seldom-explored press, in a nook at Oriel. With long poring, he is grown almost into a book. He stood as passive as one by the side of the old shelves. I longed to new-coat him in Russia, and assign him his place. He might have mustered for a tall Scapula.
D. is assiduous in his visits to these seats of learning. No inconsiderable portion of his moderate fortune, I apprehend, is consumed in journeys between them and Clifford’s-inn — where, like a dove on the asp’s nest, he has long taken up his unconscious abode, amid an incongruous assembly of attorneys, attorneys’ clerks, apparitors, promoters, vermin of the law, among whom he sits, “in calm and sinless peace.” The fangs of the law pierce him not — the winds of litigation blow over his humble chambers — the hard sheriffs officer moves his hat as he passes — legal nor illegal discourtesy touches him — none thinks of offering violence or injustice to him — you would as soon “strike an abstract idea.”
D. has been engaged, he tells me, through a course of laborious years, in an investigation into all curious matter connected with the two Universities; and has lately lit upon a MS. collection of charters, relative to C— — by which he hopes to settle some disputed points — particularly that long controversy between them as to priority of foundation. The ardor with which he engages in these liberal pursuits, I am afraid, has not met with all the encouragement it deserved, either here, or at C——. Your caputs, and heads of colleges, care less than any body else about these questions. — Contented to suck the milky fountains of their Alma Maters, without inquiring into the venerable gentlewomen’s years, they rather hold such curiosities to be impertinent — unreverend. They have their good glebe lands in manu, and care not much to rake into the title-deeds. I gather at least so much from other sources, for D. is not a man to complain.
D. started like an unbroke heifer, when I interrupted him. A priori it was not very probable that we should have met in Oriel. But D. would have done the same, had I accosted him on the sudden in his own walks in Clifford’s-inn, or in the Temple. In addition to a provoking short-sightedness (the effect of late studies and watchings at the midnight oil) D. is the most absent of men. He made a call the other morning at our friend M.‘s in Bedford-square; and, finding nobody at home, was ushered into the hall, where, asking for pen and ink, with great exactitude of purpose he enters me his name in the book — which ordinarily lies about in such places, to record the failures of the untimely or unfortunate visitor — and takes his leave with many ceremonies, and professions of regret. Some two or three hours after, his walking destinies returned him into the same neighbourhood again, and again the quiet image of the fire-side circle at M.‘s— Mrs. M. presiding at it like a Queen Lar, with pretty A.S. at her side — striking irresistibly on his fancy, he makes another call (forgetting that they were “certainly not to return from the country before that day week”) and disappointed a second time, inquires for pen and paper as before: again the book is brought, and in the line just above that in which he is about to print his second name (his rescript)— his first name (scarce dry) looks out upon him like another Sosia, or as if a man should suddenly encounter his own duplicate! — The effect may be conceived. D. made many a good resolution against any such lapses in future. I hope he will not keep them too rigorously.
For with G.D. — to be absent from the body, is sometimes (not to speak it profanely) to be present with the Lord. At the very time when, personally encountering thee, he passes on with no recognition — or, being stopped, starts like a thing surprised — at that moment, reader, he is on Mount Tabor — or Parnassus — or cosphered with Plato — or, with Harrington, framing “immortal commonwealths”— devising some plan of amelioration to thy country, or thy species — peradventure meditating some individual kindness or courtesy, to be done to thee thyself, the returning consciousness of which made him to start so guiltily at thy obtruded personal presence.
D. is delightful any where, but he is at the best in such places as these. He cares not much for Bath. He is out of his element at Buxton, at Scarborough, or Harrowgate. The Cam and the Isis are to him “better than all the waters of Damascus.” On the Muses’ hill he is happy, and good, as one of the Shepherds on the Delectable Mountains; and when he goes about with you to show you the halls and colleges, you think you have with you the Interpreter at the House Beautiful.
2 Januses of one face. — SIR THOMAS BROWNE.
In Mr. Lamb’s “Works,” published a year or two since, I find a magnificent eulogy on my old school,3 such as it was, or now appears to him to have been, between the years 1782 and 1789. It happens, very oddly, that my own standing at Christ’s was nearly corresponding with his; and, with all gratitude to him for his enthusiasm for the cloisters, I think he has contrived to bring together whatever can be said in praise of them, dropping all the other side of the argument most ingeniously.
I remember L. at school; and can well recollect that he had some peculiar advantages, which I and others of his schoolfellows had not. His friends lived in town, and were near at hand; and he had the privilege of going to see them, almost as often as he wished, through some invidious distinction, which was denied to us. The present worthy sub-treasurer to the Inner Temple can explain how that happened. He had his tea and hot rolls in a morning, while we were battening upon our quarter of a penny loaf — our crug— moistened with attenuated small beer, in wooden piggins, smacking of the pitched leathern jack it was poured from. Our Monday’s milk porritch, blue and tasteless, and the pease soup of Saturday, coarse and choking, were enriched for him with a slice of “extraordinary bread and butter,” from the hot-loaf of the Temple. The Wednesday’s mess of millet, somewhat less repugnant —(we had three banyan to four meat days in the week)— was endeared to his palate with a lump of double-refined, and a smack of ginger (to make it go down the more glibly) or the fragrant cinnamon. In lieu of our half-pickled Sundays, or quite fresh boiled beef on Thursdays (strong as caro equina), with detestable marigolds floating in the pail to poison the broth — our scanty mutton crags on Fridays — and rather more savoury, but grudging, portions of the same flesh, rotten-roasted or rare, on the Tuesdays (the only dish which excited our appetites, and disappointed our stomachs, in almost equal proportion)— he had his hot plate of roast veal, or the more tempting griskin (exotics unknown to our palates), cooked in the paternal kitchen (a great thing), and brought him daily by his maid or aunt! I remember the good old relative (in whom love forbade pride) squatting down upon some odd stone in a by-nook of the cloisters, disclosing the viands (of higher regale than those cates which the ravens ministered to the Tishbite); and the contending passions of L. at the unfolding. There was love for the bringer; shame for the thing brought, and the manner of its bringing; sympathy for those who were too many to share in it; and, at top of all, hunger (eldest, strongest of the passions!) predominant, breaking down the stony fences of shame, and awkwardness, and a troubling over-consciousness.
I was a poor friendless boy. My parents, and those who should care for me, were far away. Those few acquaintances of theirs, which they could reckon upon being kind to me in the great city, after a little forced notice, which they had the grace to take of me on my first arrival in town, soon grew tired of my holiday visits. They seemed to them to recur too often, though I thought them few enough; and, one after another, they all failed me, and I felt myself alone among six hundred playmates.
O the cruelty of separating a poor lad from his early homestead! The yearnings which I used to have towards it in those unfledged years! How, in my dreams, would my native town (far in the west) come back, with its church, and trees, and faces! How I would wake weeping, and in the anguish of my heart exclaim upon sweet Calne in Wiltshire!
To this late hour of my life, I trace impressions left by the recollection of those friendless holidays. The long warm days of summer never return but they bring with them a gloom from the haunting memory of those whole-day-leaves, when, by some strange arrangement, we were turned out, for the live-long day, upon our own hands, whether we had friends to go to, or none. I remember those bathing-excursions to the New–River, which L. recalls with such relish, better, I think, than he can — for he was a home-seeking lad, and did not much care for such water-pastimes:— How merrily we would sally forth into the fields; and strip under the first warmth of the sun; and wanton like young dace in the streams; getting us appetites for noon, which those of us that were pennyless (our scanty morning crust long since exhausted) had not the means of allaying — while the cattle, and the birds, and the fishes, were at feed about us, and we had nothing to satisfy our cravings — the very beauty of the day, and the exercise of the pastime, and the sense of liberty, setting a keener edge upon them! — How faint and languid, finally, we would return, towards nightfall, to our desired morsel, half-rejoicing, half-reluctant, that the hours of our uneasy liberty had expired!
It was worse in the days of winter, to go prowling about the streets objectless — shivering at cold windows of printshops, to extract a little amusement; or haply, as a last resort, in the hope of a little novelty, to pay a fifty-times repeated visit (where our individual faces should be as well known to the warden as those of his own charges) to the Lions in the Tower — to whose levée, by courtesy immemorial, we had a prescriptive title to admission.
L.‘s governor (so we called the patron who presented us to the foundation) lived in a manner under his paternal roof. Any complaint which he had to make was sure of being attended to. This was understood at Christ’s, and was an effectual screen to him against the severity of masters, or worse tyranny of the monitors. The oppressions of these young brutes are heart-sickening to call to recollection. I have been called out of my bed, and waked for the purpose, in the coldest winter nights — and this not once, but night after night — in my shirt, to receive the discipline of a leathern thong, with eleven other sufferers, because it pleased my callow overseer, when there has been any talking heard after we were gone to bed, to make the six last beds in the dormitory, where the youngest children of us slept, answerable for an offence they neither dared to commit, nor had the power to hinder. — The same execrable tyranny drove the younger part of us from the fires, when our feet were perishing with snow; and, under the cruelest penalties, forbad the indulgence of a drink of water, when we lay in sleepless summer nights, fevered with the season, and the day’s sports.
There was one H— — who, I learned, in after days, was seen expiating some maturer offence in the hulks. (Do I flatter myself in fancying that this might be the planter of that name, who suffered — at Nevis, I think, or St. Kits — some few years since? My friend Tobin was the benevolent instrument of bringing him to the gallows.) This petty Nero actually branded a boy, who had offended him, with a red hot iron; and nearly starved forty of us, with exacting contributions, to the one half of our bread, to pamper a young ass, which, incredible as it may seem, with the connivance of the nurse’s daughter (a young flame of his) he had contrived to smuggle in, and keep upon the leads of the ward, as they called our dormitories. This game went on for better than a week, till the foolish beast, not able to fare well but he must cry roast meat — happier than Caligula’s minion, could he have kept his own counsel — but, foolisher, alas! than any of his species in the fables — waxing fat, and kicking, in the fulness of bread, one unlucky minute would needs proclaim his good fortune to the world below; and, laying out his simple throat, blew such a ram’s horn blast, as (toppling down the walls of his own Jericho) set concealment any longer at defiance. The client was dismissed, with certain attentions, to Smithfield; but I never understood that the patron underwent any censure on the occasion. This was in the stewardship of L.‘s admired Perry.
Under the same facile administration, can L. have forgotten the cool impunity with which the nurses used to carry away openly, in open platters, for their own tables, one out of two of every hot joint, which the careful matron had been seeing scrupulously weighed out for our dinners? These things were daily practised in that magnificent apartment, which L. (grown connoisseur since, we presume) praises so highly for the grand paintings “by Verrio, and others,” with which it is “hung round and adorned.” But the sight of sleek well-fed blue-coat boys in pictures was, at that time, I believe, little consolatory to him, or us, the living ones, who saw the better part of our provisions carried away before our faces by harpies; and ourselves reduced (with the Trojan in the hall of Dido)
To feed our mind with idle portraiture.
L. has recorded the repugnance of the school to gags, or the fat of fresh beef boiled; and sets it down to some superstition. But these unctuous morsels are never grateful to young palates (children are universally fat-haters) and in strong, coarse, boiled meats, unsalted, are detestable. A gag-eater in our time was equivalent to a goul, and held in equal detestation. — suffered under the imputation.
He ate strange flesh.
He was observed, after dinner, carefully to gather up the remnants left at his table (not many, nor very choice fragments, you may credit me)— and, in an especial manner, these disreputable morsels, which he would convey away, and secretly stow in the settle that stood at his bed-side. None saw when he ate them. It was rumoured that he privately devoured them in the night. He was watched, but no traces of such midnight practices were discoverable. Some reported, that, on leave-days, he had been seen to carry out of the bounds a large blue check handkerchief, full of something. This then must be the accursed thing. Conjecture next was at work to imagine how he could dispose of it. Some said he sold it to the beggars. This belief generally prevailed. He went about moping. None spake to him. No one would play with him. He was excommunicated; put out of the pale of the school. He was too powerful a boy to be beaten, but he underwent every mode of that negative punishment, which is more grievous than many stripes. Still he persevered. At length he was observed by two of his school-fellows, who were determined to get at the secret, and had traced him one leave-day for that purpose, to enter a large worn-out building, such as there exist specimens of in Chancery-lane, which are let out to various scales of pauperism with open door, and a common staircase. After him they silently slunk in, and followed by stealth up four flights, and saw him tap at a poor wicket, which was opened by an aged woman, meanly clad. Suspicion was now ripened into certainty. The informers had secured their victim. They had him in their toils. Accusation was formally preferred, and retribution most signal was looked for. Mr. Hathaway, the then steward (for this happened a little after my time), with that patient sagacity which tempered all his conduct, determined to investigate the matter, before he proceeded to sentence. The result was, that the supposed mendicants, the receivers or purchasers of the mysterious scraps, turned out to be the parents of — — an honest couple come to decay — whom this seasonable supply had, in all probability, saved from mendicancy; and that this young stork, at the expense of his own good name, had all this while been only feeding the old birds! — The governors on this occasion, much to their honour, voted a present relief to the family of — — and presented him with a silver medal. The lesson which the steward read upon RASH JUDGMENT, on the occasion of publicly delivering the medal to — — I believe, would not be lost upon his auditory. — I had left school then, but I well remember ——. He was a tall, shambling youth, with a cast in his eye, not at all calculated to conciliate hostile prejudices. I have since seen him carrying a baker’s basket. I think I heard he did not do quite so well by himself, as he had done by the old folks.
I was a hypochondriac lad; and the sight of a boy in fetters, upon the day of my first putting on the blue clothes, was not exactly fitted to assuage the natural terrors of initiation. I was of tender years, barely turned of seven; and had only read of such things in books, or seen them but in dreams. I was told he had run away. This was the punishment for the first offence. — As a novice I was soon after taken to see the dungeons. These were little, square, Bedlam cells, where a boy could just lie at his length upon straw and a blanket — a mattress, I think, was afterwards substituted — with a peep of light, let in askance, from a prison-orifice at top, barely enough to read by. Here the poor boy was locked in by himself all day, without sight of any but the porter who brought him his bread and water — who might not speak to him; — or of the beadle, who came twice a week to call him out to receive his periodical chastisement, which was almost welcome, because it separated him for a brief interval from solitude:— and here he was shut up by himself of nights, out of the reach of any sound, to suffer whatever horrors the weak nerves, and superstition incident to his time of life, might subject him to.4 This was the penalty for the second offence. — Wouldst thou like, reader, to see what became of him in the next degree?
The culprit, who had been a third time an offender, and whose expulsion was at this time deemed irreversible, was brought forth, as at some solemn auto da fe, arrayed in uncouth and most appalling attire — all trace of his late “watchet weeds” carefully effaced, he was exposed in a jacket, resembling those which London lamplighters formerly delighted in, with a cap of the same. The effect of this divestiture was such as the ingenious devisers of it could have anticipated. With his pale and frighted features, it was as if some of those disfigurements in Dante had seized upon him. In this disguisement he was brought into the hall (L.‘s favourite state-room), where awaited him the whole number of his school-fellows, whose joint lessons and sports he was thenceforth to share no more; the awful presence of the steward, to be seen for the last time; of the executioner beadle, clad in his state robe for the occasion; and of two faces more, of direr import, because never but in these extremities visible. These were governors; two of whom, by choice, or charter, were always accustomed to officiate at these Ultima Supplicia; not to mitigate (so at least we understood it), but to enforce the uttermost stripe. Old Bamber Gascoigne, and Peter Aubert, I remember, were colleagues on one occasion, when the beadle turning rather pale, a glass of brandy was ordered to prepare him for the mysteries. The scourging was, after the old Roman fashion, long and stately. The lictor accompanied the criminal quite round the hall. We were generally too faint with attending to the previous disgusting circumstances, to make accurate report with our eyes of the degree of corporal suffering inflicted. Report, of course, gave out the back knotty and livid. After scourging, he was made over, in his San Benito, to his friends, if he had any (but commonly such poor runagates were friendless), or to his parish officer, who, to enhance the effect of the scene, had his station allotted to him on the outside of the hall gate.
These solemn pageantries were not played off so often as to spoil the general mirth of the community. We had plenty of exercise and recreation after school hours; and, for myself, I must confess, that I was never happier, than in them. The Upper and the Lower Grammar Schools were held in the same room; and an imaginary line only divided their bounds. Their character was as different as that of the inhabitants on the two sides of the Pyrennees. The Rev. James Boyer was the Upper Master; but the Rev. Matthew Field presided over that portion of the apartment, of which I had the good fortune to be a member. We lived a life as careless as birds. We talked and did just what we pleased, and nobody molested us. We carried an accidence, or a grammar, for form; but, for any trouble it gave us, we might take two years in getting through the verbs deponent, and another two in forgetting all that we had learned about them. There was now and then the formality of saying a lesson, but if you had not learned it, a brush across the shoulders (just enough to disturb a fly) was the sole remonstrance. Field never used the rod; and in truth he wielded the cane with no great good will — holding it “like a dancer.” It looked in his hands rather like an emblem than an instrument of authority; and an emblem, too, he was ashamed of. He was a good easy man, that did not care to ruffle his own peace, nor perhaps set any great consideration upon the value of juvenile time. He came among us, now and then, but often staid away whole days from us; and when he came, it made no difference to us — he had his private room to retire to, the short time he staid, to be out of the sound of our noise. Our mirth and uproar went on. We had classics of our own, without being beholden to “insolent Greece or haughty Rome,” that passed current among us — Peter Wilkins — the Adventures of the Hon. Capt. Robert Boyle — the Fortunate Blue Coat Boy — and the like. Or we cultivated a turn for mechanic or scientific operations; making little sun-dials of paper; or weaving those ingenious parentheses, called cat-cradles; or making dry peas to dance upon the end of a tin pipe; or studying the art military over that laudable game “French and English,” and a hundred other such devices to pass away the time — mixing the useful with the agreeable — as would have made the souls of Rousseau and John Locke chuckle to have seen us.
Matthew Field belonged to that class of modest divines who affect to mix in equal proportion the gentleman, the scholar, and the Christian; but, I know not how, the first ingredient is generally found to be the predominating dose in the composition. He was engaged in gay parties, or with his courtly bow at some episcopal levée, when he should have been attending upon us. He had for many years the classical charge of a hundred children, during the four or five first years of their education; and his very highest form seldom proceeded further than two or three of the introductory fables of Phædrus. How things were suffered to go on thus, I cannot guess. Boyer, who was the proper person to have remedied these abuses, always affected, perhaps felt, a delicacy in interfering in a province not strictly his own. I have not been without my suspicions, that he was not altogether displeased at the contrast we presented to his end of the school. We were a sort of Helots to his young Spartans. He would sometimes, with ironic deference, send to borrow a rod of the Under Master, and then, with Sardonic grin, observe to one of his upper boys, “how neat and fresh the twigs looked.” While his pale students were battering their brains over Xenophon and Plato, with a silence as deep as that enjoined by the Samite, we were enjoying ourselves at our ease in our little Goshen. We saw a little into the secrets of his discipline, and the prospect did but the more reconcile us to our lot. His thunders rolled innocuous for us; his storms came near, but never touched us; contrary to Gideon’s miracle, while all around were drenched, our fleece was dry.5 His boys turned out the better scholars; we, I suspect, have the advantage in temper. His pupils cannot speak of him without something of terror allaying their gratitude; the remembrance of Field comes back with all the soothing images of indolence, and summer slumbers, and work like play, and innocent idleness, and Elysian exemptions, and life itself a “playing holiday.”
Though sufficiently removed from the jurisdiction of Boyer, we were near enough (as I have said) to understand a little of his system. We occasionally heard sounds of the Ululantes, and caught glances of Tartarus. B. was a rabid pedant. His English style was crampt to barbarism. His Easter anthems (for his duty obliged him to those periodical flights) were grating as scrannel pipes.6— He would laugh, ay, and heartily, but then it must be at Flaccus’s quibble about Rex— or at the tristis severitas in vultu, or inspicere in patinas, of Terence — thin jests, which at their first broaching could hardly have had vis enough to move a Roman muscle. — He had two wigs, both pedantic, but of differing omen. The one serene, smiling, fresh powdered, betokening a mild day. The other, an old discoloured, unkempt, angry caxon, denoting frequent and bloody execution. Woe to the school, when he made his morning appearance in his passy, or passionate wig. No comet expounded surer. — J.B. had a heavy hand. I have known him double his knotty fist at a poor trembling child (the maternal milk hardly dry upon its lips) with a “Sirrah, do you presume to set your wits at me?”— Nothing was more common than to see him make a head-long entry into the school-room, from his inner recess, or library, and, with turbulent eye, singling out a lad, roar out, “Od’s my life, Sirrah,” (his favourite adjuration) “I have a great mind to whip you,”— then, with as sudden a retracting impulse, fling back into his lair — and, after a cooling lapse of some minutes (during which all but the culprit had totally forgotten the context) drive headlong out again, piecing out his imperfect sense, as if it had been some Devil’s Litany, with the expletory yell —“and I WILL, too.”— In his gentler moods, when the rabidus furor was assuaged, he had resort to an ingenious method, peculiar, for what I have heard, to himself, of whipping the boy, and reading the Debates, at the same time; a paragraph, and a lash between; which in those times, when parliamentary oratory was most at a height and flourishing in these realms, was not calculated to impress the patient with a veneration for the diffuser graces of rhetoric.
Once, and but once, the uplifted rod was known to fall ineffectual from his hand — when droll squinting W—— having been caught putting the inside of the master’s desk to a use for which the architect had clearly not designed it, to justify himself, with great simplicity averred, that he did not know that the thing had been forewarned. This exquisite irrecognition of any law antecedent to the oral or declaratory, struck so irresistibly upon the fancy of all who heard it (the pedagogue himself not excepted) that remission was unavoidable.
L. has given credit to B.‘s great merits as an instructor. Coleridge, in his literary life, has pronounced a more intelligible and ample encomium on them. The author of the Country Spectator doubts not to compare him with the ablest teachers of antiquity. Perhaps we cannot dismiss him better than with the pious ejaculation of C. — when he heard that his old master was on his death-bed —“Poor J.B.! — may all his faults be forgiven; and may he be wafted to bliss by little cherub boys, all head and wings, with no bottoms to reproach his sublunary infirmities.”
Under him were many good and sound scholars bred. — First Grecian of my time was Lancelot Pepys Stevens, kindest of boys and men, since Co-grammar-master (and inseparable companion) with Dr. T——e. What an edifying spectacle did this brace of friends present to those who remembered the anti-socialities of their predecessors! — You never met the one by chance in the street without a wonder, which was quickly dissipated by the almost immediate sub-appearance of the other. Generally arm in arm, these kindly coadjutors lightened for each other the toilsome duties of their profession, and when, in advanced age, one found it convenient to retire, the other was not long in discovering that it suited him to lay down the fasces also. Oh, it is pleasant, as it is rare, to find the same arm linked in yours at forty, which at thirteen helped it to turn over the Cicero De Amicitia, or some tale of Antique Friendship, which the young heart even then was burning to anticipate! — Co–Grecian with S. was Th — — who has since executed with ability various diplomatic functions at the Northern courts. Th —— was a tall, dark, saturnine youth, sparing of speech, with raven locks. — Thomas Fanshaw Middleton followed him (now Bishop of Calcutta) a scholar and a gentleman in his teens. He has the reputation of an excellent critic; and is author (besides the Country Spectator) of a Treatise on the Greek Article, against Sharpe. — M. is said to bear his mitre high in India, where the regni novitas (I dare say) sufficiently justifies the bearing. A humility quite as primitive as that of Jewel or Hooker might not be exactly fitted to impress the minds of those Anglo–Asiatic diocesans with a reverence for home institutions, and the church which those fathers watered. The manners of M. at school, though firm, were mild, and unassuming. — Next to M. (if not senior to him) was Richards, author of the Aboriginal Britons, the most spirited of the Oxford Prize Poems; a pale, studious Grecian. — Then followed poor S—— ill-fated M——! of these the Muse is silent.
Finding some of Edward’s race
Unhappy, pass their annals by.
Come back into memory, like as thou wert in the day-spring of thy fancies, with hope like a fiery column before thee — the dark pillar not yet turned — Samuel Taylor Coleridge — Logician, Metaphysician, Bard! — How have I seen the casual passer through the Cloisters stand still, intranced with admiration (while he weighed the disproportion between the speech and the garb of the young Mirandula), to hear thee unfold, in thy deep and sweet intonations, the mysteries of Jamblichus, or Plotinus (for even in those years thou waxedst not pale at such philosophic draughts), or reciting Homer in his Greek, or Pindar — while the walls of the old Grey Friars reechoed to the accents of the inspired charity-boy! — Many were the “wit-combats,” (to dally awhile with the words of old Fuller,) between him and C.V. Le G— — “which two I behold like a Spanish great gallion, and an English man of war; Master Coleridge, like the former, was built far higher in learning, solid, but slow in his performances. C.V.L., with the English man of war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention.”
Nor shall thou, their compeer, be quickly forgotten, Allen, with the cordial smile, and still more cordial laugh, with which thou wert wont to make the old Cloisters shake, in thy cognition of some poignant jest of theirs; or the anticipation of some more material, and, peradventure, practical one, of thine own. Extinct are those smiles, with that beautiful countenance, with which (for thou wert the Nircus formosus of the school), in the days of thy maturer waggery, thou didst disarm the wrath of infuriated town-damsel, who, incensed by provoking pinch, turning tigress-like round, suddenly converted by thy angel-look, exchanged the half-formed terrible “bl ——,” for a gentler greeting —“bless thy handsome face!”
Next follow two, who ought to be now alive, and the friends of Elia — the junior Le G—— and F——; who impelled, the former by a roving temper, the latter by too quick a sense of neglect — ill capable of enduring the slights poor Sizars are sometimes subject to in our seats of learning — exchanged their Alma Mater for the camp; perishing, one by climate, and one on the plains of Salamanca:— Le G— — sanguine, volatile, sweet-natured; F— — dogged, faithful, anticipative of insult, warm-hearted, with something of the old Roman height about him.
Fine, frank-hearted Fr — — the present master of Hertford, with Marmaduke T— — mildest of Missionaries — and both my good friends still — close the catalogue of Grecians in my time.
3 Recollections of Christ’s Hospital.
4 One or two instances of lunacy, or attempted suicide, accordingly, at length convinced the governors of the impolicy of this part of the sentence, and the midnight torture to the spirits was dispensed with. — This fancy of dungeons for children was a sprout of Howard’s brain; for which (saving the reverence due to Holy Paul) methinks, I could willingly spit upon his statue.
6 In this and every thing B. was the antipodes of his coadjutor. While the former was digging his brains for crude anthems, worth a pig-nut, F. would be recreating his gentlemanly fancy in the more flowery walks of the Muses. A little dramatic effusion of his, under the name of Vertumnus and Pomona, is not yet forgotten by the chroniclers of that sort of literature. It was accepted by Garrick, but the town did not give it their sanction. — B. used to say of it, in a way of half-compliment, half-irony, that it was too classical for representation.
The human species, according to the best theory I can form of it, is composed of two distinct races, the men who borrow, and the men who lend. To these two original diversities may be reduced all those impertinent classifications of Gothic and Celtic tribes, white men, black men, red men. All the dwellers upon earth, “Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites,” flock hither, and do naturally fall in with one or other of these primary distinctions. The infinite superiority of the former, which I choose to designate as the great race, is discernible in their figure, port, and a certain instinctive sovereignty. The latter are born degraded. “He shall serve his brethren.” There is something in the air of one of this cast, lean and suspicious; contrasting with the open, trusting, generous manners of the other.
Observe who have been the greatest borrowers of all ages — Alcibiades — Falstaff — Sir Richard Steele — our late incomparable Brinsley — what a family likeness in all four!
What a careless, even deportment hath your borrower! what rosy gills! what a beautiful reliance on Providence doth he manifest — taking no more thought than lilies! What contempt for money — accounting it (yours and mine especially) no better than dross! What a liberal confounding of those pedantic distinctions of meum and tuum! or rather what a noble simplification of language (beyond Tooke), resolving these supposed opposites into one clear, intelligible pronoun adjective! — What near approaches doth he make to the primitive community — to the extent of one half of the principle at least! —
He is the true taxer who “calleth all the world up to be taxed:” and the distance is as vast between him and one of us, as subsisted betwixt the Augustan Majesty and the poorest obolary Jew that paid it tribute-pittance at Jerusalem! — His exactions, too, have such a cheerful, voluntary air! So far removed from your sour parochial or state-gatherers — those ink-horn varlets, who carry their want of welcome in their faces! He cometh to you with a smile, and troubleth you with no receipt; confining himself to no set season. Every day is his Candlemas, or his Feast of Holy Michael. He applieth the lene tormentum of a pleasant look to your purse — which to that gentle warmth expands her silken leaves, as naturally as the cloak of the traveller, for which sun and wind contended! He is the true Propontic which never ebbeth! The sea which taketh handsomely at each man’s hand. In vain the victim, whom he delighteth to honour, struggles with destiny; he is in the net. Lend therefore cheerfully, O man ordained to lend — that thou lose not in the end, with thy worldly penny, the reversion promised. Combine not preposterously in thine own person the penalties of Lazarus and of Dives! — but, when thou seest the proper authority coming, meet it smilingly, as it were half-way. Come, a handsome sacrifice! See how light he makes of it! Strain not courtesies with a noble enemy.
Reflections like the foregoing were forced upon my mind by the death of my old friend, Ralph Bigod, Esq., who departed this life on Wednesday evening; dying, as he had lived, without much trouble. He boasted himself a descendant from mighty ancestors of that name, who heretofore held ducal dignities in this realm. In his actions and sentiments he belied not the stock to which he pretended. Early in life he found himself invested with ample revenues; which, with that noble disinterestedness which I have noticed as inherent in men of the great race, he took almost immediate measures entirely to dissipate and bring to nothing: for there is something revolting in the idea of a king holding a private purse; and the thoughts of Bigod were all regal. Thus furnished, by the very act of disfurnishment; getting rid of the cumbersome luggage of riches, more apt (as one sings)
To slacken virtue, and abate her edge,
Than prompt her to do aught may merit praise,
he set forth, like some Alexander, upon his great enterprise, “borrowing and to borrow!”
In his periegesis, or triumphant progress throughout this island, it has been calculated that he laid a tythe part of the inhabitants under contribution. I reject this estimate as greatly exaggerated:— but having had the honour of accompanying my friend, divers times, in his perambulations about this vast city, I own I was greatly struck at first with the prodigious number of faces we met, who claimed a sort of respectful acquaintance with us. He was one day so obliging as to explain the phenomenon. It seems, these were his tributaries; feeders of his exchequer; gentlemen, his good friends (as he was pleased to express himself), to whom he had occasionally been beholden for a loan. Their multitudes did no way disconcert him. He rather took a pride in numbering them; and, with Comus, seemed pleased to be “stocked with so fair a herd.”
With such sources, it was a wonder how he contrived to keep his treasury always empty. He did it by force of an aphorism, which he had often in his mouth, that “money kept longer than three days stinks.” So he made use of it while it was fresh. A good part he drank away (for he was an excellent toss-pot), some he gave away, the rest he threw away, literally tossing and hurling it violently from him — as boys do burrs, or as if it had been infectious — into ponds, or ditches, or deep holes — inscrutable cavities of the earth; — or he would bury it (where he would never seek it again) by a river’s side under some bank, which (he would facetiously observe) paid no interest — but out away from him it must go peremptorily, as Hagar’s offspring into the wilderness, while it was sweet. He never missed it. The streams were perennial which fed his fisc. When new supplies became necessary, the first stranger, was sure to contribute to the deficiency. For Bigod had an undeniable way with him. He had a cheerful, open exterior, a quick jovial eye, a bald forehead, just touched with grey (cana fides). He anticipated no excuse, and found none. And, waiving for a while my theory as to the great race, I would put it to the most untheorising reader, who may at times have disposable coin in his pocket, whether it is not more repugnant to the kindliness of his nature to refuse such a one as I am describing, than to say no to a poor petitionary rogue (your bastard borrower), who, by his mumping visnomy, tells you, that he expects nothing better; and, therefore, whose preconceived notions and expectations you do in reality so much less shock in the refusal.
When I think of this man; his fiery glow of heart; his swell of feeling; how magnificent, how ideal he was; how great at the midnight hour; and when I compare with him the companions with whom I have associated since, I grudge the saving of a few idle ducats, and think that I am fallen into the society of lenders, and little men.
To one like Elia, whose treasures are rather cased in leather covers than closed in iron coffers, there is a class of alienators more formidable than that which I have touched upon; I mean your borrowers of books— those mutilators of collections, spoilers of the symmetry of shelves, and creators of odd volumes. There is Comberbatch, matchless in his depredations!
That foul gap in the bottom shelf facing you, like a great eye-tooth knocked out —(you are now with me in my little back study in Bloomsbury, reader!)— with the huge Switzer-like tomes on each side (like the Guildhall giants, in their reformed posture, guardant of nothing) once held the tallest of my folios, Opera Bonaventuræ, choice and massy divinity, to which its two supporters (school divinity also, but of a lesser calibre — Bellarmine, and Holy Thomas), showed but as dwarfs — itself an Ascapart! —that Comberbatch abstracted upon the faith of a theory he holds, which is more easy, I confess, for me to suffer by than to refute, namely, that “the title to property in a book (my Bonaventure, for instance), is in exact ratio to the claimant’s powers of understanding and appreciating the same.” Should he go on acting upon this theory, which of our shelves is safe?
The slight vacuum in the left-hand case — two shelves from the ceiling — scarcely distinguishable but by the quick eye of a loser — was whilom the commodious resting-place of Brown on Urn Burial. C. will hardly allege that he knows more about that treatise than I do, who introduced it to him, and was indeed the first (of the moderns) to discover its beauties — but so have I known a foolish lover to praise his mistress in the presence of a rival more qualified to carry her off than himself. — Just below, Dodsley’s dramas want their fourth volume, where Vittoria Corombona is! The remainder nine are as distasteful as Priam’s refuse sons, when the Fates borrowed Hector. Here stood the Anatomy of Melancholy, in sober state. — There loitered the Complete Angler; quiet as in life, by some stream side. — In yonder nook, John Buncle, a widower-volume, with “eyes closed,” I mourns his ravished mate.
One justice I must do my friend, that if he sometimes, like the sea, sweeps away a treasure, at another time, sea-like, he throws up as rich an equivalent to match it. I have a small under-collection of this nature (my friend’s gathering’s in his various calls), picked up, he has forgotten at what odd places, and deposited with as little memory as mine. I take in these orphans, the twice-deserted. These proselytes of the gate are welcome as the true Hebrews. There they stand in conjunction; natives, and naturalised. The latter seem as little disposed to inquire out their true lineage as I am. — I charge no warehouse-room for these deodands, nor shall ever put myself to the ungentlemanly trouble of advertising a sale of them to pay expenses.
To lose a volume to C. carries some sense and meaning in it. You are sure that he will make one hearty meal on your viands, if he can give no account of the platter after it. But what moved thee, wayward, spiteful K., to be so importunate to carry off with thee, in spite of tears and adjurations to thee to forbear, the Letters of that princely woman, the thrice noble Margaret Newcastle? — knowing at the time, and knowing that I knew also, thou most assuredly wouldst never turn over one leaf of the illustrious folio:— what but the mere spirit of contradiction, and childish love of getting the better of thy friend? — Then, worst cut of all! to transport it with thee to the Gallican land —
Unworthy land to harbour such a sweetness,
A virtue in which all ennobling thoughts dwelt,
Pure thoughts, kind thoughts, high thoughts, her sex’s wonder!
— hadst thou not thy play-books, and books of jests and fancies, about thee, to keep thee merry, even as thou keepest all companies with thy quips and mirthful tales? — Child of the Green-room, it was unkindly done of thee. Thy wife, too, that part-French, better-part Englishwoman! — that she could fix upon no other treatise to bear away, in kindly token of remembering us, than the works of Fulke Greville, Lord Brook — of which no Frenchman, nor woman of France, Italy, or England, was ever by nature constituted to comprehend a tittle! Was there not Zimmerman on Solitude?
Reader, if haply thou art blessed with a moderate collection, be shy of showing it; or if thy heart overfloweth to lend them, lend thy books; but let it be to such a one as S.T.C. — he will return them (generally anticipating the time appointed) with usury; enriched with annotations, tripling their value. I have had experience. Many are these precious MSS. of his —(in matter oftentimes, and almost in quantity not unfrequently, vying with the originals)— in no very clerkly hand — legible in my Daniel; in old Burton; in Sir Thomas Browne; and those abstruser cogitations of the Greville, now, alas! wandering in Pagan lands. — I counsel thee, shut not thy heart, nor thy library, against S.T.C.
Every man hath two birth-days: two days, at least, in every year, which set him upon revolving the lapse of time, as it affects his mortal duration. The one is that which in an especial manner he termeth his. In the gradual desuetude of old observances, this custom of solemnizing our proper birth-day hath nearly passed away, or is left to children, who reflect nothing at all about the matter, nor understand any thing in it beyond cake and orange. But the birth of a New Year is of an interest too wide to be pretermitted by king or cobbler. No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left. It is the nativity of our common Adam.
Of all sounds of all bells —(bells, the music nighest bordering upon heaven)— most solemn and touching is the peal which rings out the Old Year. I never hear it without a gathering-up of my mind to a concentration of all the images that have been diffused over the past twelvemonth; all I have done or suffered, performed or neglected — in that regretted time. I begin to know its worth, as when a person dies. It takes a personal colour; nor was it a poetical flight in a contemporary, when he exclaimed
I saw the skirts of the departing Year.
It is no more than what in sober sadness every one of us seems to be conscious of, in that awful leave-taking. I am sure I felt it, and all felt it with me, last night; though some of my companions affected rather to manifest an exhilaration at the birth of the coming year, than any very tender regrets for the decease of its predecessor. But I am none of those who —
Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest.
I am naturally, beforehand, shy of novelties; new books, new faces, new years — from some mental twist which makes it difficult in me to face the prospective. I have almost ceased to hope; and am sanguine only in the prospects of other (former) years. I plunge into foregone visions and conclusions. I encounter pell-mell with past disappointments. I am armour-proof against old discouragements. I forgive, or overcome in fancy, old adversaries. I play over again for love, as the gamesters phrase it, games, for which I once paid so dear. I would scarce now have any of those untoward accidents and events of my life reversed. I would no more alter them than the incidents of some well-contrived novel. Methinks, it is better that I should have pined away seven of my goldenest years, when I was thrall to the fair hair, and fairer eyes, of Alice W——n, than that so passionate a love-adventure should be lost. It was better that our family should have missed that legacy, which old Dorrell cheated us of, than that I should have at this moment two thousand pounds in banco, and be without the idea of that specious old rogue.
In a degree beneath manhood, it is my infirmity to look back upon those early days. Do I advance a paradox, when I say, that, skipping over the intervention of forty years, a man may have leave to love himself, without the imputation of self-love?
If I know aught of myself, no one whose mind is introspective — and mine is painfully so — can have a less respect for his present identity, than I have for the man Elia. I know him to be light, and vain, and humorsome; a notorious ***; addicted to ****: averse from counsel, neither taking it, nor offering it; —*** besides; a stammering buffoon; what you will; lay it on, and spare not; I subscribe to it all, and much more, than thou canst be willing to lay at his door — but for the child Elia — that “other me,” there, in the back-ground — I must take leave to cherish the remembrance of that young master — with as little reference, I protest, to this stupid changeling of five-and-forty, as if it had been a child of some other house, and not of my parents. I can cry over its patient small-pox at five, and rougher medicaments I can lay its poor fevered head upon the sick pillow at Christ’s and wake with it in surprise at the gentle posture of maternal tenderness hanging over it, that unknown had watched its sleep. I know how it shrank from any the least colour of falsehood. — God help thee, Elia, how art thou changed! Thou art sophisticated. — I know how honest, how courageous (for a weakling) it was — how religious, how imaginative, how hopeful! From what have I not fallen, if the child I remember was indeed myself — and not some dissembling guardian presenting a false identity, to give the rule to my unpractised steps, and regulate the tone of my moral being!
That I am fond of indulging, beyond a hope of sympathy, in such retrospection, may be the symptom of some sickly idiosyncrasy. Or is it owing to another cause; simply, that being without wife or family, I have not learned to project myself enough out of myself; and having no offspring of my own to dally with, I turn back upon memory and adopt my own early idea, as my heir and favourite? If these speculations seem fantastical to thee, reader —(a busy man, perchance), if I tread out of the way of thy sympathy, and am singularly-conceited only, I retire, impenetrable to ridicule, under the phantom cloud of Elia.
The elders, with whom I was brought up, were of a character not likely to let slip the sacred observance of any old institution; and the ringing out of the Old Year was kept by them with circumstances of peculiar ceremony. — In those days the sound of those midnight chimes, though it seemed to raise hilarity in all around me, never failed to bring a train of pensive imagery into my fancy. Yet I then scarce conceived what it meant, or thought of it as a reckoning that concerned me. Not childhood alone, but the young man till thirty, never feels practically that he is mortal. He knows it indeed, and, if need were, he could preach a homily on the fragility of life; but he brings it not home to himself, any more than in a hot June we can appropriate to our imagination the freezing days of December. But now, shall I confess a truth? — I feel these audits but too powerfully. I begin to count the probabilities of my duration, and to grudge at the expenditure of moments and shortest periods, like miser’s farthings. In proportion as the years both lessen and shorten, I set more count upon their periods, and would fain lay my ineffectual finger upon the spoke of the great wheel. I am not content to pass away “like a weaver’s shuttle.” Those metaphors solace me not, nor sweeten the unpalatable draught of mortality. I care not to be carried with the tide, that smoothly bears human life to eternity; and reluct at the inevitable course of destiny. I am in love with this green earth; the face of town and country; the unspeakable rural solitudes, and the sweet security of streets. I would set up my tabernacle here. I am content to stand still at the age to which I am arrived; I, and my friends: to be no younger, no richer, no handsomer. I do not want to be weaned by age; or drop, like mellow fruit, as they say, into the grave. — Any alteration, on this earth of mine, in diet or in lodging, puzzles and discomposes me. My household-gods plant a terrible fixed foot, and are not rooted up without blood. They do not willingly seek Lavinian shores. A new state of being staggers me. Sun, and sky, and breeze, and solitary walks, and summer holidays, and the greenness of fields, and the delicious juices of meats and fishes, and society, and the cheerful glass, and candle-light, and fire-side conversations, and innocent vanities, and jests, and irony itself— do these things go out with life?
Can a ghost laugh, or shake his gaunt sides, when you are pleasant with him?
And you, my midnight darlings, my Folios! must I part with the intense delight of having you (huge armfuls) in my embraces? Must knowledge come to me, if it come at all, by some awkward experiment of intuition, and no longer by this familiar process of reading?
Shall I enjoy friendships there, wanting the smiling indications which point me to them here — the recognisable face — the “sweet assurance of a look”—?
In winter this intolerable disinclination to dying — to give it its mildest name — does more especially haunt and beset me. In a genial August noon, beneath a sweltering sky, death is almost problematic. At those times do such poor snakes as myself enjoy an immortality. Then we expand and burgeon. Then are we as strong again, as valiant again, as wise again, and a great deal taller. The blast that nips and shrinks me, puts me in thoughts of death. All things allied to the insubstantial, wait upon that master feeling; cold, numbness, dreams, perplexity; moonlight itself, with its shadowy and spectral appearances — that cold ghost of the sun, or Phoebus’ sickly sister, like that innutritious one denounced in the Canticles:— I am none of her minions — I hold with the Persian.
Whatsoever thwarts, or puts me out of my way, brings death into my mind. All partial evils, like humours, run into that capital plague-sore. — I have heard some profess an indifference to life. Such hail the end of their existence as a port of refuge; and speak of the grave as of some soft arms, in which they may slumber as on a pillow. Some have wooed death — but out upon thee, I say, thou foul, ugly phantom! I detest, abhor, execrate, and (with Friar John) give thee to six-score thousand devils, as in no instance to be excused or tolerated, but shunned as a universal viper; to be branded, proscribed, and spoken evil of! In no way can I be brought to digest thee, thou thin, melancholy Privation, or more frightful and confounding Positive!’
Those antidotes, prescribed against the fear of thee, are altogether frigid and insulting, like thyself. For what satisfaction hath a man, that he shall “lie down with kings and emperors in death,” who in his life-time never greatly coveted the society of such bed-fellows? — or, forsooth, that “so shall the fairest face appear?”— why, to comfort me, must Alice W——n be a goblin? More than all, I conceive disgust at those impertinent and misbecoming familiarities, inscribed upon your ordinary tombstones. Every dead man must take upon himself to be lecturing me with his odious truism, that “such as he now is, I must shortly be.” Not so shortly, friend, perhaps, as thou imaginest. In the meantime I am alive. I move about. I am worth twenty of thee. Know thy betters! Thy New Years’ Days are past. I survive, a jolly candidate for 1821. Another cup of wine — and while that turn-coat bell, that just now mournfully chanted the obsequies of 1820 departed, with changed notes lustily rings in a successor, let us attune to its peal the song made on a like occasion, by hearty, cheerful Mr. Cotton. —
THE NEW YEAR
Hark, the cock crows, and yon bright star
Tells us, the day himself’s not far;
And see where, breaking from the night,
He gilds the western hills with light.
With him old Janus doth appear,
Peeping into the future year,
With such a look as seems to say,
The prospect is not good that way.
Thus do we rise ill sights to see,
And ‘gainst ourselves to prophesy;
When the prophetic fear of things
A more tormenting mischief brings,
More full of soul-tormenting gall,
Than direst mischiefs can befall.
But stay! but stay! methinks my sight,
Better inform’d by clearer light,
Discerns sereneness in that brow,
That all contracted seem’d but now.
His revers’d face may show distaste,
And frown upon the ills are past;
But that which this way looks is clear,
And smiles upon the New-born Year.
He looks too from a place so high,
The Year lies open to his eye;
And all the moments open are
To the exact discoverer.
Yet more and more he smiles upon
The happy revolution.
Why should we then suspect or fear
The influences of a year,
So smiles upon us the first morn,
And speaks us good so soon as born?
Plague on’t! the last was ill enough,
This cannot but make better proof;
Or, at the worst, as we brush’d through
The last, why so we may this too;
And then the next in reason shou’d
Be superexcellently good:
For the worst ills (we daily see)
Have no more perpetuity,
Than the best fortunes that do fall;
Which also bring us wherewithal
Longer their being to support,
Than those do of the other sort:
And who has one good year in three,
And yet repines at destiny,
Appears ungrateful in the case,
And merits not the good he has.
Then let us welcome the New Guest
With lusty brimmers of the best;
Mirth always should Good Fortune meet,
And renders e’en Disaster sweet:
And though the Princess turn her back,
Let us but line ourselves with sack,
We better shall by far hold out,
Till the next Year she face about.
How say you, reader — do not these verses smack of the rough magnanimity of the old English vein? Do they not fortify like a cordial; enlarging the heart, and productive of sweet blood, and generous spirits, in the concoction? Where be those puling fears of death, just now expressed or affected? — Passed like a cloud — absorbed in the purging sunlight of clear poetry — clean washed away by a wave of genuine Helicon, your only Spa for these hypochondries — And now another cup of the generous! and a merry New Year, and many of them, to you all, my masters!
“A clear fire, a clean hearth, and the rigour of the game.” This was the celebrated wish of old Sarah Battle (now with God) who, next to her devotions, loved a good game at whist. She was none of your lukewarm gamesters, your half and half players, who have no objection to take a hand, if you want one to make up a rubber; who affirm that they have no pleasure in winning; that they like to win one game, and lose another; that they can while away an hour very agreeably at a card-table, but are indifferent whether they play or no; and will desire an adversary, who has slipt a wrong card, to take it up and play another. These insufferable triflers are the curse of a table. One of these flies will spoil a whole pot. Of such it may be said, that they do not play at cards, but only play at playing at them.
Sarah Battle was none of that breed. She detested them, as I do, from her heart and soul; and would not, save upon a striking emergency, willingly seat herself at the same table with them. She loved a thorough-paced partner, a determined enemy. She took, and gave, no concessions. She hated favours. She never made a revoke, nor ever passed it over in her adversary without exacting the utmost forfeiture. She fought a good fight: cut and thrust. She held not her good sword (her cards) “like a dancer.” She sate bolt upright; and neither showed you her cards, nor desired to see yours. All people have their blind side — their superstitions; and I have heard her declare, under the rose, that Hearts was her favourite suit.
I never in my life — and I knew Sarah Battle many of the best years of it — saw her take out her snuff-box when it was her turn to play; or snuff a candle in the middle of a game; or ring for a servant, till it was fairly over. She never introduced, or connived at, miscellaneous conversation during its process. As she emphatically observed, cards were cards: and if I ever saw unmingled distaste in her fine last-century countenance, it was at the airs of a young gentleman of a literary turn, who had been with difficulty persuaded to take a hand; and who, in his excess of candour, declared, that he thought there was no harm in unbending the mind now and then, after serious studies, in recreations of that kind! She could not bear to have her noble occupation, to which she wound up her faculties, considered in that light. It was her business, her duty, the thing she came into the world to do — and she did it. She unbent her mind afterwards — over a book.
Pope was her favourite author: his Rape of the Lock her favourite work. She once did me the favour to play over with me (with the cards) his celebrated game of Ombre in that poem; and to explain to me how far it agreed with, and in what points it would be found to differ from, tradrille. Her illustrations were apposite and poignant; and I had the pleasure of sending the substance of them to Mr. Bowles: but I suppose they came too late to be inserted among his ingenious notes upon that author.