Charles Lamb's Uncollected Writings: Second Paper





READERS of Lamb’s “Life and Letters” remember that before “Mr. H.” was written, before Kemble had rejected “ John Woodvil,” Godwin’s tragedy of “ Antonio” had been produced at DruryLane Theatre, and that Elia was present at the performance thereof. But perhaps they do not know (at least, not many of them) that Elia’s essay on “ The Artificial Comedy of the Last Century,” as originally published in the “London Magazine,” contained a full and circumstantial account of the cold and stately manner in which John Kemble performed the part of Antonio in Godwin’s unfortunate play. For some reason or other, Lamb did not reprint this part of the article. Admirers of Charles Lamb and admirers of the drama will be pleased — for’t is a very characteristic bit of writing — with what Elia says of


“ THE story of his swallowing opiumpills to keep him lively upon the first night of a certain tragedy we may presume to be a piece of retaliatory pleasantry on the part of the suffering author. But, indeed, John had the art of diffusing a complacent equable dulness (which you knew not where to quarrel with) over a piece which he did not like, beyond any of his contemporaries. John Kemble had made up his mind early that all the good tragedies which could be written had been written, and he resented any new attempt. His shelves were full. The old standards were scope enough for his ambition. He ranged in them absolute, and ' fair in Otway, full in Shakspeare shone.’ He succeeded to the old lawful thrones, and did not care to adventure bottomry with a Sir Edward Mortimer, or any casual speculator that offered.

“ I remember, too acutely for my peace, the deadly extinguisher which he put upon my friend G.’s ‘ Antonio.' G., satiate with visions of political justice, (possibly not to be realized in our time,) or willing to let the skeptical worldlings see that his anticipations of the future did not preclude a warm sympathy for men as they are and have been, wrote a tragedy. He chose a story, affecting, romantic, Spanish,—the plot simple, without being naked, — the incidents uncommon, without being overstrained. Antonio, who gives the name to the piece, is a sensitive young Castilian, who, in a fit of his country honor, immolates his sister—

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1863, by TICKNOR AND FIELDS, in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.

“But I must not anticipate the catastrophe. The play, reader, is extant in choice English, and you will employ a spare half-crown not injudiciously in the quest of it.

“ The conception was bold, and the dénouement — the time and place in which the hero of it existed considered — not much out of keeping; yet it must be confessed that it required a delicacy of handling, both from the author and the performer, so as not much to shock the prejudices of a modern English audience. G., in my opinion, had done his part. John, who was in familiar habits with the philosopher, had undertaken to play Antonio. Great expectations were formed. A philosopher’s first play was a new era. The night arrived. I was favored with a seat in an advantageous box, between the author and his friend M. G. sat cheerful and confident. In his friend M.’s looks, who had perused the manuscript, I read some terror. Antonio, in the person of John Philip Kemble, at length appeared, starched out in a ruff which no one could dispute, and in most irreproachable mustachios. John always dressed most provokingly correct on these occasions. The first act swept by, solemn and silent. It went off, as G. assured M., exactly as the opening act of a piece — the protasis — should do. The cue of the spectators was to be mute. The characters were but in their introduction. The passions and the incidents would be developed hereafter. Applause hitherto would be impertinent. Silent attention was the effect all-desirable. Poor M. acquiesced, — but in his honest, friendly face I could discern a working which told how much more acceptable the plaudit of a single hand (however misplaced) would have been than all this reasoning. The second act (as in duty bound) rose a little in interest; but still John kept his forces under, — in policy, as G. would have it, — and the audience were most complacently attentive. The protasis, in fact, was scarcely unfolded. The interest would warm in the next act, against which a special incident was provided. M. wiped his cheek, flushed with a friendly perspiration, — ’t is M.’s way of showing his zeal, — ‘ from every pore of him a perfume falls.’ I honor it above Alexander’s. He had once or twice during this act joined his palms in a feeble endeavor to elicit a sound; they emitted a solitary noise without an echo ; there was no deep to answer to his deep. G. repeatedly begged him to be quiet. The third act at length brought on the scene which was to warm the piece progressively to the final flaming forth of the catastrophe. A philosophic calm settled upon the clear brow of G., as it approached. The lips of M. quivered. A challenge was held forth upon the stage, and there was promise of a fight. The pit roused themselves on this extraordinary occasion, and, as their manner is, seemed disposed to make a ring,— when suddenly Antonio, who was the challenged, turning the tables upon the hot challenger, Don Gusman, (who, by the way, should have had his sister,) balks his humor, and the pit’s reasonable expectation at the same time, with some speeches out of the new philosophy against duelling. The audience were here fairly caught, — their courage was up, and on the alert, — a few blows, ding dong, as R—s the dramatist afterwards expressed it to me, might have done the business, —when their most exquisite moral sense was suddenly called in to assist in the mortifying negation of their own pleasure. They could not applaud, for disappointment; they would not condemn, for morality’s sake. The interest stood stone-still; and John’s manner was not at all calculated to unpetrify it. It was Christmas time, and the atmosphere furnished some pretext for asthmatic affections. One began to cough, his neighbor sympathized with him, till a cough became epidemical. But when, from being half artificial in the pit, the cough got frightfully naturalized among the fictitious persons of the drama, and Antonio himself (albeit it was not set down in the stage-directions) seemed more intent upon relieving his own lungs than the distresses of the author and his friends, — then G. ' first knew fear,’ and, mildly turning to M., intimated that he had not been aware that Mr. Kemble labored under a cold, and that the performance might possibly have been postponed with advantage for some nights further, — still keeping the same serene countenance, while M. sweat like a bull.

“It would be invidious to pursue the fates of this ill-starred evening. In vain did the plot thicken in the scenes that followed, in vain the dialogue wax more passionate and stirring, and the progress of the sentiment point more and more clearly to the arduous development which impended. In vain the action was accelerated, while the acting stood still. From the beginning, John had taken his stand, — had wound himself up to an even tenor of stately declamation, from which no exigence of dialogue or person could make him swerve for an instant. To dream of his rising with the scene (the common trick of tragedians) was preposterous ; for from the onset he had planted himself, as upon a terrace, on an eminence vastly above the audience, and he kept that sublime level to the end. He looked from his throne of elevated sentiment upon the under-world of spectators with a most sovran and becoming contempt. There was excellent pathos delivered out to them: an they would receive it, so; an they would not receive it, so. There was no offence against decorum in all this ; nothing to condemn, to damn. Not an irreverent symptom of a sound was to be heard. The procession of verbiage stalked on through four and five acts, no one venturing to predict what would come of it, when, towards the windingup of the latter, Antonio, with an irrelevancy that seemed to stagger Elvira herself, — for she had been coolly arguing the point of honor with him, — suddenly whips out a poniard, and stabs his sister to the heart. The effect was as if a murder had been committed in cold blood. The whole house rose up in clamorous indignation, demanding justice. The feeling rose far above hisses. I believe at that instant, if they could have got him, they would have torn the unfortunate author to pieces. Not that the act itself was so exorbitant, or of a complexion different from what they themselves would have applauded upon another occasion in a Brutus or an Appius, — but, for want of attendingto Antonio’s words, which palpably led to the expectation of no less dire an event, instead of being seduced by his manner, which seemed to promise a sleep of a less alarming nature than it was his cue to inflict upon Elvira, they found themselves betrayed into an accompliceship of murder, a perfect misprision of parricide, while they dreamed of nothing less.

“ M., I believe, was the only person who suffered acutely from the failure; for G. thenceforward, with a serenity unattainable but by the true philosophy, abandoning a precarious popularity, retired into his fast hold of speculation,— the drama in which the world was to be his tiring-room, and remote posterity his applauding spectators, at once, and actors.”

“ The least shavings of gold are valuable, men say,” says Archbishop Leighton, in his masterly Commentary on Peter ; and the veriest trifle from the pen of such a writer as Charles Lamb should be highly prized by all readers that are readers. Therefore I think it would be unwise in me not to print Elia's Postscript to his “ Chapter on Ears,” and his Answers to Correspondents. Indeed, I do not know but that they contain some of the most racy sentences Lamb ever wrote. At any rate, they do contain some delightful banter and “ most ingenious nonsense.” In their pleasantry, archness, and goodnatured raillery, these two little articles of Elia’s remind me of some of Addison’s happiest papers in the “ Spectator.”

Better than anything in Southey’s “ Doctor” concerning the authorship of that queer, quaint, delightful book are Elia’s affected anger and indignation against the author of the “ Indicator ” for attributing the essays of Elia to their right author. Leigh Hunt must have “ laughed consumedly,” as he read the P. S. to the “ Chapter on Ears.” And in his Answers to Correspondents how many delightful changes Elia rings upon the name of the unlucky Peter Bell ! How cavalierly he answers “ Indagator,” and the others, who are so importunate about the true locality of his birth, — “as if, forsooth, Elia were presently about to be passed to his parish ”!


“ A WRITER, whose real name, it seems, is Boldero, but who has been entertaining the town for the last twelve months with some very pleasant lucubrations under the assumed signature of Leigh Hunt,2 in his ‘Indicator’ of the 31st January last has thought fit to insinuate that I, Elia, do not write the little sketches which bear my signature, in this Magazine, but that the true author of them is a Mr. L—b. Observe the critical period at which he has chosen to impute the calumny! on the very eve of the publication of our last number, — affording no scope for explanation for a full mouth, —during which time I must needs lie writhing and tossing under the cruel imputation of nonentity. —Good heavens ! that a plain man must not be allowed to be !

“ They call this an age of personality : but surely this spirit of anti-personality (if I may so express it) is something worse.

“ Take away my moral reputation, — I may live to discredit that calumny. Injure my literary fame, — I may write that up again. But when a gentleman is robbed of his identity, where is he ?

“ Other murderers stab but at our existence, a frail and perishing trifle at the best. But here is an assassin who aims at our very essence, —who not only forbids us to be any longer, but. to have been at all. Let our ancestors look to it.

“Is the parish register nothing ? Is the house in Princes Street, Cavendish Square, where we saw the light six-andforty years ago, nothing? Were our progenitors from stately Genoa, where we flourished four centuries back, before the barbarous name of Boldero 3 was known to a European mouth, nothing ? Was the goodly scion of our name, transplanted into England in the reign of the seventh Henry, nothing ? Are the archives of the steelyard, in succeeding reigns, (if haply they survive the fury of our envious enemies,) showing that we flourished in prime repute, as merchants, down to the period of the Commonwealth, nothing ?

“‘Why, then the world, and all that 's in't is nothing,
The covering sky is nothing, Bohemia nothing.'

“ I am ashamed that this trifling writer should have power to move me so.

“ ELIA.”


“ A CORRESPONDENT, who writes himself Peter Ball, or Bell, — for his handwriting is as ragged as his manners, — admonishes me of the old saying, that some people (under a courteous periphrasis I slur his less ceremonious epithet) had need have good memories. In my ‘Old Benchers of the Inner Temple,’ I have delivered myself, and truly, a Templar born. Bell clamors upon this, and thinketh that he hath caught a fox. It seems that in a former paper, retorting upon a weekly scribbler who had called my good identity in question, (see P. S. to my ‘ Chapter on Ears,’) I profess myself a native of some spot near Cavendish Square, deducing my remoter origin from Italy. But who does not see, except this tinkling cymbal, that in that idle fiction of Genoese ancestry I was answering a fool according to his folly, — that Elia there expresseth himself ironically, as to an approved slanderer, who hath no right to the truth, and can be no fit recipient of it? Such a one it is usual to leave to his delusions, — or, leading him from error still to contradictory error, to plunge him (as we say) deeper in the mire, and give him line till he suspend himself. No understanding reader could be imposed upon by such obvious rodomontade to suspect me for an alien, or believe me other than English.

“ To a second correspondent, who signs himself ' A Wiltshire Man,’ and claims me for a countryman upon the strength of an equivocal phrase in my ' Christ’s Hospital,’ a more mannerly reply is due. Passing over the Genoese fable, which Bell makes such a ring about, he nicely detects a more subtle discrepancy, which Bell was too obtuse to strike upon. Referring to the passage, I must confess that the term ‘native town,’ applied to Caine, primâ facie seems to bear out the construction which my friendly correspondent is willing to put upon it. The context, too, I am afraid, a little favors it. But where the words of an author, taken literally, compared with some other passage in his writings, admitted to be authentic, involve a palpable contradiction, it hath been the custom of the ingenuous commentator to smooth the difficulty by the supposition that in the one case an allegorical or tropical sense was chiefly intended. So by the word ‘ native ’ I may be supposed to mean a town where I might have been born, — or where it might be desirable that I should have been born, as being situate in wholesome air, upon a dry, chalky soil, in which I delight, — or a town with the inhabitants of which I passed some weeks, a summer or two ago, so agreeably, that they and it became in a manner native to me. Without some such latitude of interpretation in the present case, I see not how we can avoid falling into a gross error in physics, as to conceive that a gentleman may be born in two places, from which all modern and ancient testimony is alike abhorrent. Bacchus cometh the nearest to it, whom I remember Ovid to have honored with the epithet ' twiceborn.’ * But not to mention that he is so called (we conceive) in reference to the places whence rather than the places where he was delivered, — for by either birth he may probably be challenged for a Theban, — in a strict way of speaking, he was a filius femoris by no means in the same sense as he had been before a filius alvi, for that latter was but a secondary and tralatitious way of being born, and he but a denizen of the second house of his geniture. Thus much by way of explanation was thought due to the courteous ' Wiltshire Man.’

“ To ' Indagator,’ ' Investigator,’ ' Incertus,’ and the rest of the pack, that are so importunate about the true localities of his birth, — as if, forsooth, Elia were presently about to be passed to his parish, — to all such church-warden critics he answereth, that, any explanation here given notwithstanding, he hath not so fixed his nativity (like a rusty vane) to one dull spot, but that, if he seeth occasion, or the argument shall demand it, he will be born again, in future papers, in whatever place, and at whatever period, shall seem good unto him,—

“‘Modò me Thebis, modò Athenis.’

“ ELIA.”

Lamb excels as a critic. His article on Hogarth is a masterly specimen of acute and subtile criticism. Hazlitt says it ought to be read by every lover of Hogarth and English genius. His paper on “ The Tragedies of Shakspeare, considered with Reference to their Fitness for Stage-Representation,” is, in the opinion of good judges, the noblest criticism ever written. The brief, “ matterful ” notes to his Specimens of the Old English Dramatists are the very quintessence of criticism, — the flower and fruit of years of thoughtful reading of the old English drama. Nay, even his incidental allusions to his favorite old poets and prose-writers are worth whole pages of ordinary criticism.

Therefore I do not see what reason or excuse Talfourd could have for not publishing the critical paper on De Foe’s Secondary Novels, which Lamb contributed to Walter Wilson’s Life of De Foe. The author of “Robinson Crusoe ” was a great favorite with Lamb, and his criticism of “ Colonel Jack,” “Moll Flanders,” etc., was written con amore, and is, perhaps, the very best thing ever said about those remarkable works. Those who have read Lamb’s letter to Wilson, dated December, 1822, and therefore know how admirably he could write of the author of the best and most popular book for boys ever written, will be right glad to read his


“ IT has happened not seldom that one work of some author has so transcendently surpassed in execution the rest of his compositions, that the world has agreed to pass a sentence of dismissal upon the latter, and to consign them to total neglect and oblivion. It has done wisely in this, not to suffer the contemplation of excellencies of a lower standard to abate or stand in the way of the pleasure it has agreed to receive from the master-piece.

“ Again, it has happened, that, from no inferior merit of execution in the rest, but from superior good fortune in the choice of its subject, some single work shall have been suffered to eclipse and cast into shade the deserts of its less fortunate brethren. This has been done with more or less injustice in the case of the popular allegory of Bunyan, in which the beautiful and Scriptural image of a pilgrim or wayfarer, (we are all such upon earth,) addressing itself intelligibly and feelingly to the bosoms of all, has silenced, and made almost to be forgotten, the more awful and scarcely less tender beauties of the ‘Holy War made by Shaddai upon Diabolus,’ of the same author, — a romance less happy in its subject, but surely well worthy of a secondary immortality. But in no instance has this excluding partiality been exerted with more unfairness than against what may be termed the secondary novels or romances of De Foe.

“ While all ages and descriptions of people hang delighted over the ‘ Adventures of Robinson Crusoe,’ and shall continue to do so, we trust, while the world lasts, how few comparatively will bear to be told that there exist other fictitious narratives by the same writer, — four of them at least of no inferior interest, except what results from a less felicitous choice of situation ! ' Roxana,’ ' Singleton,’ ‘Moll Flanders,’ ' Colonel Jack,’ are all genuine offspring of the same father. They bear the veritable impress of De Foe. An unpractised midwife that would not swear to the nose, lip, forehead, and eye of every one of them! They are in their way as full of incident, and some of them every bit as romantic; only they want the uninhabited island, and the charm that has bewitched the world, of the striking solitary situation.

“ But are there no solitudes out of the cave and the desert ? or cannot the heart in the midst of crowds feel frightfully alone ? Singleton on the world of waters, prowling about with pirates less merciful than the creatures of any howling wilderness, — is he not alone, with the faces of men about him, but without a guide that can conduct him through the mists of educational and habitual ignorance, or a fellow-heart that can interpret to him the new-born yearnings and aspirations of unpractised penitence ? Or when the boy Colonel Jack, in the loneliness of the heart, (the worst solitude,) goes to hide his ill-purchased treasure in the hollow tree by night, and miraculously loses, and miraculously finds it again, — whom hath he there to sympathize with him? or of what sort are his associates ?

“ The narrative manner of De Foe has a naturalness about it beyond that of any other novel or romance writer. His fictions have all the air of true stories. It is impossible to believe, while you are reading them, that a real person is not narrating to you everywhere nothing but what really happened to himself. To this the extreme homeliness of their style mainly contributes. We use the word in its best and heartiest sense,—that which comes home to the reader. The narrators everywhere are chosen from low life, or have had their origin in it; therefore they tell their own tales, (Mr. Coleridge has anticipated us in this remark.) as persons in their degree are observed to do, with infinite repetition, and an overacted exactness, lest the hearer should not have minded, or have forgotten, some things that had been told before. Hence the emphatic sentences marked in the good old (but deserted) Italic type; and hence, too, the frequent interposition of the reminding old colloquial parenthesis, ‘I say,’ ‘Mind,’ and the like, when the story-teller repeats what, to a practised reader, might appear to have been sufficiently insisted upon before : which made an ingenious critic observe, that his works, in this kind, were excellent reading for the kitchen. And, in truth, the heroes and heroines of De Foe can never again hope to be popular with a much higher class of readers than that of the servant-maid or the sailor. Crusoe keeps its rank only by tough prescription ; Singleton, the pirate, — Colonel Jack, the thief,—Moll Flanders, both thief and harlot, — Roxana, harlot and something worse, — would be startling ingredients in the bill-of-fare of modern literary delicacies. But, then, what pirates, what thieves, and what harlots is the thief, the harlot, and the pirate of De Foe? We would not hesitate to say, that in no other book of fiction, where the lives of such characters are described, is guilt and delinquency made less seductive, or the suffering made more closely to follow the commission, or the penitence, more earnest or more bleeding, or the intervening flashes of religious visitation upon the rude and uninstructed soul more meltingly and fearfully painted. They, in this, come near to the tenderness of Bunyan ; while the livelier pictures and incidents in them, as in Hogarth or in Fielding, tend to diminish that fastidiousness to the concerns and pursuits of common life which an unrestrained passion for the ideal and the sentimental is in danger of producing.”

Lamb, in a letter to one of his correspondents, says, after speaking of his recent contributions to the “ London Magazine,” — “ In the next number I shall figure as a theologian, and have attacked my late brethren, the Unitarians. What Jack-Pudding tricks I shall play next I know not; I am almost at the end of my tether.” Talfourd, of course, does not publish the article, or even give its title, which is, “ Unitarian Protests.” Those who would see how well or how ill Elia figures as a theologian should read


“DEAR M——,— Though none of your acquaintance can with greater sincerity congratulate you upon this happy conjuncture than myself, one of the oldest of them, it was with pain I found you, after the ceremony, depositing in the vestry-room what is called a Protest. I thought you superior to this little sophistry. What! after submitting to the service of the Church of England, — after consenting to receive a boon from her, in the person of your amiable consort, — was it consistent with sense, or common good manners, to turn round upon her, and flatly taunt her with false worship? This language is a little of the strongest in your books and from your pulpits, though there it may well enough be excused from religious zeal and the native warmth of Non-Conformity. But at the altar, — the Church-ofEngland altar,—adopting her forms, and complying with her requisitions to the letter,—to be consistent, together with the practice, I fear, you must drop the language of dissent. You are no longer sturdy Non-Cons ; you are there Occasional Conformists. You submit to accept the privileges communicated by a form of words exceptionable, and perhaps justly, in your view; but so submitting, you have no right to quarrel with the ritual which you have just condescended to owe an obligation to. They do not force you into their churches. You come voluntarily, knowing the terms. You marry in the name of the Trinity. There is no evading this by pretending that you take the formula with your own interpretation (and so long as you can do this, where is the necessity of protesting?): for the meaning of a vow is to be settled by the sense of the imposer, not by any forced construction of the taker : else might all vows, and oaths too, be eluded with impunity. You marry, then, essentially as Trinitarians ; and the altar no sooner satisfied than, hey, presto ! with the celerity of a juggler, you shift habits, and proceed pure Unitarians again in the vestry. You cheat the Church out of a wife, and go home smiling in your sleeves that you have so cunningly despoiled the Egyptians. In plain English, the Church has married you in the name of so and so, assuming that you took the words in her sense ; but you outwitted her; you assented to them in your sense only, and took from her what, upon a right understanding, she would have declined giving you.

“ This is the fair construction to be put upon all Unitarian marriages, as at present contracted; and so long as you Unitarians could salve your consciences with the équivoque, I do not see why the Established Church should have troubled herself at all about the matter. But the Protesters necessarily see further. They have some glimmerings of the deception ; they apprehend a flaw somewhere ; they would fain be honest, and yet they must marry notwithstanding; for honesty’s sake, they are fain to dehonestate themselves a little. Let me try the very words of your own Protest, to see what confessions we can pick out of them.

“ ‘ As Unitarians, therefore, we’ (you and your newly espoused bride) ' most solemnly protest against the service,’ (which yourselves have just demanded,) ' because we are thereby called upon, not only tacitly to acquiesce, but to profess a belief, in a doctrine which is a dogma, as we believe, totally unfounded.’ But, do you profess that belief during the ceremony? or are you only called upon for the profession, but do not make it ? If the latter, then you fall in with the rest of your more consistent brethren, who waive the Protest; if the former, then, I fear, your Protest cannot save you.

“ Hard and grievous it is, that, in any case, an institution so broad and general as the union of man and wife should be so cramped and straitened by the hands of an imposing hierarchy, that, to plight troth to a lovely woman, a man must be necessitated to compromise his truth and faith to Heaven ; but so it must be, so long as you choose to marry by the forms of the church over which that hierarchy presides.

“‘Therefore,’ say you, ‘we protest.’ O poor and much fallen word, Protest! It was not so that the first heroic reformers protested. They departed out of Babylon once for good and all; they came not back for an occasional contact with her altars, — a dallying, and then a protesting against dalliance; they stood not shuffling in the porch, with a Popish foot within, and its lame Lutheran fellow without, halting betwixt. These were the true Protestants. You are — Protesters.

“ Besides the inconsistency of this proceeding, I must think it a piece of impertinence, unseasonable at least, and out of place, to obtrude these papers upon the officiating clergyman, — to offer to a public functionary an instrument which by the tenor of his function he is not obliged to accept, but, rather, he is called upon to reject. Is it done in his clerical capacity ? He has no power of redressing the grievance. It is to take the benefit of his ministry, and then insult him. If in his capacity of fellow-Christian only, what are your scruples to him, so long as you yourselves are able to get over them, and do get over them by the very fact of coming to require his services ? The thing you call a Protest might with just as good a reason be presented to the church-warden for the time being, to the parishclerk, or the pew-opener.

“ The Parliament alone can redress your grievance, if any. Yet I see not how with any grace your people can petition for relief, so long as, by the very fact of your coming to church to be married, they do bonâ fide and strictly relieve themselves. The Upper House, in particular, is not unused to these same things called Protests, among themselves. But how would this honorable body stare to find a noble Lord conceding a measure, and in the next breath, by a solemn Protest, disowning it! A Protest there is a reason given for non-compliance, not a subterfuge for an equivocal occasional compliance. It was reasonable in the primitive Christians to avert from their persons, by whatever lawful means, the compulsory eating of meats which had been offered unto idols. I dare say the Roman Prefects and Exarchates had plenty of petitioning in their days. But what would a Festus or Agrippa have replied to a petition to that effect., presented to him by some evasive Laodicean, with the very meat between his teeth, which he had been chewing voluntarily rather than abide the penalty? Relief for tender consciences means nothing, where the conscience has previously relieved itself, — that is, has complied with the injunctions which it seeks preposterously to be rid of. Relief for conscience there is properly none, but what by better information makes an act appear innocent and lawful with which the previous conscience was not satisfied to comply. All else is but relief from penalties, from scandal incurred by a complying practice, where the conscience itself is not fully satisfied.

“ But, say you, we have hard measure: the Quakers are indulged with the liberty denied to us. They are ; and dearly have they earned it. You have come in (as a sect, at least) in the cool of the evening, at the eleventh hour. The Quaker character was hardened in the fires of persecution in the seventeenth century, — not quite to the stake and fagot, but little short of that: they grew up and thrived against noisome prisons, cruel beatings, whippings, stockings. They have since endured a century or two of scoffs, contempts; they have been a by-word, and a nayword ; they have stood unmoved : and the consequence of long conscientious resistance on one part is invariably, in the end, remission on the other. The legislature, that denied you the tolerance, which I do not know that at that time you even asked, gave them the liberty which, without granting, they would have assumed. No penalties could have driven them into the churches. This is the consequence of entire measures. Had the early Quakers consented to take oaths, leaving a Protest with the clerk of the court against them in the same breath with which they had taken them, do you in your conscience think that they would have been indulged at this day in their exclusive privilege of affirming ? Let your people go on for a century or so, marrying in your own fashion, and I will warrant them, before the end of it, the legislature will be willing to concede to them more than they at present demand.

“ Either the institution of marriage depends not for its validity upon hypocritical compliances with the ritual of an alien church, and then I do not see why you cannot marry among yourselves, as the Quakers, without their indulgence, would have been doing to this day, — or it does depend upon such ritual compliance, and then in your Protests you offend against a divine ordinance. I have read in the EssexStreet Liturgy a form for the celebration of marriage. Why is this become a dead letter ? Oh ! it has never been legalized: that is to say, in the law’s eye it is no marriage. But do you take upon you to say, in the view of the gospel it would be none ? Would your own people, at least, look upon a couple so paired to be none ? But the case of dowries, alimonies, inheritances, etc., which depend for their validity upon the ceremonial of the church by law established,— are these nothing? That our children are not legally Filii Nullius,— is this nothing ? I answer, Nothing ; to the preservation of a good conscience, nothing; to a consistent Christianity, less than nothing. Sad worldly thorns they are indeed, and stumblingblocks well worthy to be set out of the way by a legislature calling itself Christian ; but not likely to be removed in a hurry by any shrewd legislators who perceive that the petitioning complainants have not so much as bruised a shin in the resistance, but, prudently declining the briers and the prickles, nestle quietly down in the smooth twosided velvet of a Protesting Occasional Conformity.

“ I am, dear Sir,

“ With much respect, yours, etc.,


Lamb once said, of all the lies he ever put off, — and he put off a good many, — indeed, he valued himself on being “ a matter-of-lie man,” believing truth to be too precious to be wasted upon everybody, — of all the lies he ever put off, he valued his “ Memoir of Liston ” the most. “ It is,” he confessed to Miss Hutchinson, “ from top to toe, every paragraph, pure invention, and has passed for gospel, — has been republished in the newspapers, and in the penny play-bills of the night, as an authentic account.” And yet, notwithstanding its incidents are all imaginary, its facts all fictions, is not Lamb’s “Memoir of Liston ” a truer and more trusts worthy work than any of the productions of those contemptible biographers — unfortunately not yet extinct — so admirably ridiculed in the thirty-fifth number of the “Freeholder”? In fact, is not this “ lying Life of Liston ” a very clever satire on those biographers who, like the monkish historians mentioned by Fuller, in his “ Church History of Britain,” swell the bowels of their books with empty wind, in default of sufficient solid food to fill them,—who, according to Addison, ascribe to the unfortunate persons whose lives they pretend to write works which they never wrote and actions which they never performed, celebrate virtues which they were never famous for and excuse faults which they were never guilty of? And does not Lamb, in this work, very happily ridicule the pedantry and conceit of certain grave and dignified biographers whose works are to be found in most gentlemen’s libraries ?

Therefore, as a piece of most admirable fooling, as a bit of harmless, goodnatured pleasantry, as a specimen of pleasant satire, of subtile irony, this “ Memoir of Liston ” is well worthy of a place in all editions of Charles Lamb’s writings.


“ THE subject of our Memoir is lineally descended from Johan de L'Estonne, (see ‘ Domesday Book,’ where he is so written,) who came in with the Conqueror, and had lands awarded him at Lupton Magna, in Kent. His particular merits or services Fabian, whose authority I chiefly follow, has forgotten, or perhaps thought it immaterial, to specify. Fuller thinks that he was standard-bearer to Hugo de Agmondesham, a powerful Norman baron, who was slain by the hand of Harold himself at the fatal Battle of Hastings. Be this as it may, we find a family of that name flourishing some centuries later in that county. John Delliston, Knight, was high sheriff for Kent, according to Fabian, quinto Henrici Sexti; and we trace the lineal branch flourishing downwards,— the orthography varying, according to the unsettled usage of the times, from Delleston to Leston or Liston, between which it seems to have alternated, till, in the latter end of the reign of James I., it finally settled into the determinate and pleasing dissyllabic arrangement which it still retains. Aminadab Liston, the eldest male representative of the family of that day, was of the strictest order of Puritans. Mr. Foss, of Pall Mall, has obligingly communicated to me an undoubted tract of his, which bears the initials only, A. L., and is entitled, ‘ The Grinning Glass : or Actor’s Mirrour, wherein the vituperative Visnomy of vicious Players for the Scene is as virtuously reflected back upon their mimetic Monstrosities as it has viciously (hitherto) vitiated with its vile Vanities her Votarists.’ A strange title, but bearing the impress of those absurdities with which the title-pages of that pamphletspawning age abounded. The work bears date 1617. It preceded the ' Histriomastix ’ by fifteen years; and as it went before it in time, so it comes not far short of it in virulence. It is amusing to find an ancestor of Liston’s thus bespattering the players at the commencement of the seventeenth century:—

“ ‘ Thinketh He,’ (the actor,) ‘with his costive countenances, to wry a sorrowing soul out of her anguish, or by defacing the divine denotement of destinate dignity (daignely described in the face humane and no other) to reinstamp the Paradice-plotted similitude with a novel and naughty approximation (not in the first intention) to those abhorred and ugly God-forbidden correspondences, with floating Apes’ jeering gibberings, and Babion babblinglike, to hoot out of countenance all modest measure, as if our sins were not sufficing to stoop our backs without He wresting and crooking his members to mistimed mirth (rather malice) in deformed fashion, leering when he should learn, prating for praying, goggling his eyes, (better upturned for grace,) whereas in Paradice (if we can go thus high for His profession) that devilish Serpent appeareth his undoubted Predecessor, first induing a mask like some roguish roistering Roscius (I spit at them all) to beguile with Stage shows the gaping Woman, whose Sex hath still chiefly upheld these Mysteries, and are voiced to be the chief Stage-haunters, where, as I am told, the custom is commonly to mumble (between acts) apples, not ambiguously derived from that pernicious Pippin, (worse in effect than the Apples: of Discord,) whereas sometimes the hissing sounds of displeasure, as I hear, do lively reintonate that snake-taking-leave, and diabolical goings off, in Paradice.’

“ The Puritanic effervescence of the early Presbyterians appears to have abated with time, and the opinions of the more immediate ancestors of our subject to have subsided at length into a strain of moderate Calvinism. Still a tincture of the old leaven was to be expected among the posterity of A. L.

“ Our hero was an only son of Habakkuk Liston, settled as an Anabaptist minister upon the patrimonial soil of his ancestors. A regular certificate appears, thus entered in the Church-Book at Lupton Magna:— ' Johannes, filius Habakkcuk et Rebeccaæ Liston, Dissentientium, natus quinto Decembri, 1780, baptizatus sexto Februarii sequentis; Sponsoribus J. et W. Woollaston, unû cum Maria Merry weather.’ The singularity of an Anabaptist minister conforming to the child-rites of the Church would have tempted me to doubt the authenticity of this entry, had I not been obliged with the actual sight of it, by the favor of Mr. Minns, the intelligent and worthy parish-clerk of Lupton. Possibly some expectation in point of worldly advantages from some of the sponsors might have induced this unseemly deviation, as it must have appeared, from THE practice and principles of that generally rigid sect. The term Dissentientium was possibly intended by the orthodox clergyman as a slur upon the supposed inconsistency. What, or of what nature, the expectations we have hinted at may have been, we have now no means of ascertaining. Of the Woollastons no trace is now discoverable in the village. The name of Merryweather occurs over the front of a grocer’s shop at the western extremity of Lupton.

“ Of the infant Liston we find no events recorded before his fourth year, in which a severe attack of the measles bid fair to have robbed the rising generation of a fund of innocent entertainment. He had it of the confluent kind, as it is called, and the child’s life was for a week or two despaired of. His recovery he always attributes (under Heaven) to the humane interference of one Doctor Wilhelm Richter, a German empiric, who, in this extremity, prescribed a copious diet of sauer-kraut, which the child was observed to reach at with avidity, when other food repelled him; and from this change of diet his restoration was rapid and complete. We have often heard him name the circumstance with gratitude; and it is not altogether surprising that a relish for this kind of aliment, so abhorrent and harsh to common English palates, has accompanied him through life. When any of Mr. Liston’s intimates invite him to supper, he never fails of finding, nearest to his knife and fork, a dish of sauer-kraut.

“At the age of nine we find our subject under the tuition of the Rev. Mr. Goodenough, (his father’s health not permitting him probably to instruct him himself,) by whom he was inducted into a competent portion of Latin and Greek, with some mathematics, till the death of Mr. Goodenough, in his own seventieth, and Master Liston’s eleventh year, put a stop for the present to his classical progress.

“ We have heard our hero, with emotions which do his heart honor, describe the awful circumstances attending the decease of this worthy old gentleman. It seems they had been walking out together, master and pupil, in a fine sunset, to the distance of threequarters of a mile west of Lupton, when a sudden curiosity took Mr. Goodenough to look down upon a chasm, where a shaft had been lately sunk in a mining speculation (then projecting, but abandoned soon after, as not answering the promised success, by Sir Ralph Shepperton, Knight, and member for the county). The old clergyman leaning over, either with incaution or sudden giddiness, (probably a mixture of both,) suddenly lost his footing, and, to use Mr. Liston’s phrase, disappeared, and was doubtless broken into a thousand pieces. The sound of his head, etc., dashing successively upon the projecting masses of the chasm, had such an effect upon the child that a serious sickness ensued, and even for many years after his recovery he was not once seen so much as to smile.

“ The joint death of both his parents, which happened not many months after this disastrous accident, and were probably (one or both of them) accelerated by it, threw our youth upon the protection of his maternal great-aunt, Mrs. Sittingbourn. Of this aunt we have never heard him speak but with expressions amounting almost to reverence. To the influence of her early counsels and manners he has always attributed the firmness with which, in maturer years, thrown upon a way of life commonly not the best adapted to gravity and self-retirement, he has been able to maintain a serious character, untinctured with the levities incident to his profession. Ann Sittingbourn (we have seen her portrait by Hudson) was stately, stiff, tall, with a cast of features strikingly resembling the subject of this memoir. Her estate in Kent was spacious and well-wooded ; the house, one of those venerable old mansions which are so impressive in childhood, and so hardly forgotten in succeeding years. In the venerable solitudes of Charnwood, among thick shades of the oak and beech, (this last his favorite tree,) the young Liston cultivated those contemplative habits which have never entirely deserted him in after-years. Here he was commonly in the summer months to be met with, with a book in his hand,— not a play-book, — meditating. Boyle’s ‘ Reflections ’ was at one time the darling volume, which in its turn was superseded by Young’s ' Night Thoughts,’ which has continued its hold upon him through life. He carries it always about him; and it is no uncommon thing for him to be seen, in the refreshing intervals of his occupation, leaning against a side-scene, in a sort of Herbert - of - Cherbury posture, turning over a pocket-edition of his favorite author.

“ But the solitudes of Charnwood were not destined always to obscure the path of our young hero. The premature death of Mrs. Sittingbourn, at the age of seventy, occasioned by incautious burning of a pot of charcoal in her sleeping-chamber, left him in his nineteenth year nearly without resources. That the stage at all should have presented itself as an eligible scope for his talents, and, in particular, that he should have chosen a line so foreign to what appears to have been his turn of mind, may require some explanation.

“ At Charnwood, then, we behold him thoughtful, grave, ascetic. From his cradle averse to flesh-meats and strong drink ; abstemious even beyond the genius of the place, and almost in spite of the remonstrances of his great-aunt, who, though strict, was not rigid; water was his habitual drink, and his food little beyond the mast and beech-nuts of his favorite groves. It is a medical fact, that this kind of diet, however favorable to the contemplative powers of the primitive hermits, etc., is but ill adapted to the less robust minds and bodies of a later generation. Hypochondria almost constantly ensues. It was so in the case of the young Liston. He was subject to sights, and had visions. Those arid beech-nuts, distilled by a complexion naturally adust, mounted into an occiput already prepared to kindle by long seclusion and the fervor of strict Calvinistic notions. In the glooms of Charnwood he was assailed by illusions similar in kind to those which are related of the famous Anthony of Padua. Wild antic faces would ever and anon protrude themselves upon his sensorium. Whether he shut his eyes or kept them open, the same illusions operated. The darker and more profound were his cogitations, the droller and more whimsical became the apparitions. They buzzed about him thick as flies, flapping at him, flouting him, hooting in his ear, yet with such comic appendages, that what at first was his bane became at length his solace ; and he desired no better society than that of his merry phantasmata. We shall presently find in what way this remarkable phenomenon influenced his future destiny.

“ On the death of Mrs. Sittingbourn, we find him received into the family of Mr. Willoughby, an eminent Turkey merchant, resident in Birchin Lane, London. We lose a little while here the chain of his history, — by what inducements this gentleman was determined to make him an inmate of his house. Probably he had had some personal kindness for Mrs. Sittingbourn formerly; but however it was, the young man was here treated more like a son than a clerk, though he was nominally but the latter. Different avocations, the change of scene, with that alternation of business and recreation which in its greatest perfection is to be had only in London, appear to have weaned him in a short time from the hypochondriacal affect ions which had beset him at Charnwood.

“In the three years which followed his removal to Birchin Lane, we find him making more than one voyage to the Levant, as chief factor for Mr. Willoughby at the Porte. We could easily fill our biography with the pleasant passages which we have heard him relate as having happened to him at Constantinople, such as his having been taken up on suspicion of a design of penetrating the seraglio, etc.; but, with the deepest convincement of this gentleman’s own veracity, we think that some of the stories are of that whimsical, and others of that romantic nature, which, however diverting, would be out of place in a narrative of this kind, which aims not only at strict truth, but at avoiding the very appearance of the contrary.

“ We will now bring him over the seas again, and suppose him in the countinghouse in Birchin Lane, his protector satisfied with the returns of his factorage, and all going on so smoothly that we may expect to find Mr. Liston at last an opulent merchant upon ’Change, as it is called. But see the turns of destiny ! Upon a summer’s excursion into Norfolk, in the year 1801, the accidental sight of pretty Sally Parker, as she was called, (then in the Norwich company,) diverted his inclinations at once from commerce; and he became, in the lauguage of commonplace biography, stage-struck. Happy for the lovers of mirth was it that our hero took this turn ; he might else have been to this hour that unentertaining character, a plodding London merchant.

“ We accordingly find him shortly after making his début, as it is called, upon the Norwich boards, in the season of that year, being then in the twentysecond year of his age. Having a natural bent to tragedy, he chose the part of Pyrrhus in the ‘ Distressed Mother,’ to Sally Parker’s Hermione. We find him afterwards as Barnwell, Altamont, Chamont, etc.; but, as if Nature had destined him to the sock, an unavoidable infirmity absolutely discapacitatcd him for tragedy. His person, at this latter period of which I have been speaking, was graceful, and even commanding; his countenance set to gravity; he had the power of arresting the attention of an audience at first sight almost beyond any other tragic actor. But he could not hold it. To understand this obstacle, we must go back a few years to those appalling reveries at Charnwood. Those illusions, which had vanished before the dissipation of a less recluse life and more free society, now in his solitary tragic studies, and amid the intense calls upon feeling incident to tragic acting, came back upon him with tenfold vividness. In the midst of some most pathetic passage, the parting of Jaffier with his dying friend, for instance, he would suddenly be surprised with a fit of violent horse-laughter. While the spectators were all sobbing before him with emotion, suddenly one of those grotesque faces would peep out upon him, and he could not resist the impulse. A timely excuse once or twice served his purpose ; but no audiences could be expected to bear repeatedly this violation of the continuity of feeling. He describes them (the illusions) as so many demons haunting him, and paralyzing every effect. Even now, I am told, he cannot recite the famous soliloquy in ‘ Hamlet,’ even in private, without immoderate bursts of laughter. However, what he had not force of reason sufficient to overcome he had good sense enough to turn into emolument, and determined to make a commodity of his distemper. He prudently exchanged the buskin for the sock, and the illusions instantly ceased ; or, if they occurred for a short season, by their very coöperation added a zest to his comic vein,—some of his most catching faces being (as he expresses it) little more than transcripts and copies of those extraordinary phantasmata.

“We have now drawn out our hero’s existence to the period when he was about to meet for the first time the sympathies of a London audience. The particulars of his success since have been too much before our eyes to render a circumstantial detail of them expedient. I shall only mention, that Mr. Willoughby, his resentments having had time to subside, is at present one of the fastest friends of his old renegado factor; and that Mr. Liston’s hopes of Miss Parker vanishing along with his unsuccessful suit to Melpomene, in the autumn of 1811 he married his present lady, by whom he has been blest with one son, Philip, and two daughters, Ann and Angustina.”

“ Ask anybody you meet,” writes Lamb to Miss Wordsworth, then visiting some friends in Cambridge, “who is the biggest woman in Cambridge, and I ’ll hold a wager they ’ll say Mrs. -. She broke down two benches in Trinity Gardens, — one on the confines of St. John’s, which occasioned a litigation between the societies as to repairing it. In warm weather she retires into an ice-cellar, (literally,) and dates from a hot Thursday some twenty years back. She sits in a room with opposite doors and windows, to let in a thorough draft, which gives her slenderer friends toothaches. She is to be seen in the market every morning at ten, cheapening fowls, which I observe the Cambridge poulterers are not sufficiently careful to stump.”

On the person thus briefly sketched Elia wrote an article for the “ London Magazine.” As it is not to be found in the standard editions of its author’s works, we herewith present it to our readers. They will find it to be a clever specimen of Lamb’s peculiar and delightful humor. In truth, it is one of the very best things he ever conjured up. We observe he has changed the locality of the stout woman, and places her in Oxford, instead of Cambridge.


THE widow Blacket, of Oxford, is the largest female I ever had the pleasure of beholding. There may be her parallel upon the earth, but surely I never saw it. I take her to be lineally descended from the maid’s aunt of Brainford, who caused Master Ford such uneasiness. She hath Atlantean shoulders ; and as she stoopeth in her gait, — with as few offences to answer for in her own particular as any of Eve’s daughters,—her back seems broad enough to bear the blame of all the peccadilloes that have been committed since Adam. She girdeth her waist — or what she is pleased to esteem as such — nearly up to her shoulders, from beneath which that huge dorsal expanse, in mountainous declivity, emergeth. Respect for her alone preventeth the idle boys, who follow her about in shoals, whenever she cometh abroad, from getting up and riding. But her presence infallibly commands a reverence. She is, indeed, as the Americans would express it, something awful. Her person is a burden to herself, no less than to the ground which bears her.

“ To her mighty bone she hath a pinguitude withal which makes the depth of winter to her the most desirable season. Her distress in the warmer solstice is pitiable. During the months of July and August she usually renteth a cool cellar, where ices are kept, whereinto she descendeth when Sirius rageth. She dates from a hot Thursday, some twenty-five years ago. Her apartment in summer is pervious to the four winds. Two doors in north and south direction, and two windows fronting the rising and the setting sun, never closed, from every cardinal point catch the contributory breezes. She loves to enjoy what she calls a quadruple draught. That must he a shrewd zephyr that can escape her. I owe a painful face-ache, which oppresses me at this moment, to a cold caught, sitting by her, one day in last July, at this receipt of coolness. Her fan in ordinary resembleth a banner spread, which she keepeth continually on the alert, to detect the least breeze.

“ She possesseth an active and gadding mind, totally incommensurate with her person. No one delighteth more than herself in country exercises and pastimes. I have passed many an agreeable holiday with her in her favorite park at Woodstock. She performs her part in these delightful ambulatory excursions by the aid of a portable gardenchair. She setteth out with you at a fair foot-gallop, which she keepeth up till you are both well breathed, and then she reposeth for a few seconds. Then she is up again for a hundred paces or so, and again resteth, — her movement, on these sprightly occasions, being something between walking and flying. Her great weight seemeth to propel her forward, ostrich-fashion. In this kind of relieved marching I have traversed with her many scores of acres on those well-wooded and well-watered domains.

“ Her delight at Oxford is in the public walks and gardens, where, when the weather is not too oppressive, she passeth much of her valuable time. There is a bench at Maudlin, or rather, situated between the frontiers of that and ******’s College,— some litigation, latterly, about repairs, has vested the property of it finally in ******’s, — where at the hour of noon she is ordinarily to be found sitting, — so she calls it by courtesy,—but, in fact, pressing and breaking of it down with her enormous settlement ; as both those Foundations, who, however, are goodnatured enough to wink at it, have found, I believe, to their cost. Here she taketh the fresh air, principally at vacation times, when the walks are freest from interruption of the younger fry of students. Here she passeth her idle hours, not idly, but generally accompanied with a book, — blest, if she can but intercept some resident Fellow, (as usually there are some of that brood left behind at these periods,) or stray Master of Arts, (to most of whom she is better known than their dinner-bell,) with whom she may confer upon any curious topic of literature. I have seen these shy gownsmen, who truly set but a very slight value upon female conversation, cast a hawk’s eye upon her from the length of Maudlin Grove, and warily glide off into another walk, — true monks as they are, and ungently neglecting the delicacies of her polished converse, for their own perverse and uncommunicating solitariness !

“ Within doors her principal diversion is music, vocal and instrumental, in both which she is no mean professor. Her voice is wonderfully fine ; but, till I got used to it, I confess it staggered me. It is for all the world like that of a piping bulfinch, while from her size and stature you would expect notes to drown the deep organ. The shake, which most fine singers reserve for the close or cadence, by some unaccountable flexibility, or tremulousness of pipe, she carrieth quite through the composition ; so that her time, to a common air or ballad, keeps double motion, like the earth,—running the primary circuit of the tune, and still revolving upon its own axis. The effect, as I said before, when you are used to it, is as agreeable as it is altogether new and surprising.

“ The spacious apartment of her outward frame lodgeth a soul in all respects disproportionate. Of more than mortal make, she evinceth withal a trembling sensibility, a yielding infirmity of purpose, a quick susceptibility to reproach, and all the train of diffident and blushing virtues, which for their habitation usually seek out a feeble frame, an attenuated and meagre constitution. With more than man’s bulk, her humors and occupations are eminently feminine. She sighs, — being six foot high. She languisheth,— being two feet wide. She worketh slender sprigs upon the delicate muslin, — her fingers being capable of moulding a Colossus. She sippeth her wine out of her glass daintily, — her capacity being that of a tun of Heidelberg. She goeth mincingly with those feet of hers, — whose solidity need not fear the black ox’s pressure.

“ Softest and largest of thy sex, adieu ! By what parting attribute may I salute thee ? — last and best of the Titanesses ! — Ogress, fed with milk instead of blood! — not least, or least handsome, among Oxford’s stately structures ! — Oxford, who, in its deadest time of vacation, can never properly be said to be empty, having thee to fill it! ”

  1. See Atlantic Monthly, May Number.
  2. “ Clearly a fictitious appellation; for, if we admit the latter of these names to be in a manner English, what is Leigh ? Christian nomenclature knows no such.”
  3. “ It is clearly of transatlantic origin.”
  4. “ ' Imperfectus adhuc infans genetricis ab alvo
    Eripitur, patrioque tener (si credere dignum)
    Insuitur femori....
    Tutaque his geniti sunt incunabula Bacchi.'
  5. Metamorph. Lib. 3.”