Sunday, January 18, 2009


Excerpts from Letters of Charles Lamb

"When found, make a note of," Captain Cuttle was fond of saying, and I'm following his advice. Here are passages by which I've pencilled a tick in volume 1 of the Everyman edition of Charles Lamb's letters. In one or two places I've adopted E.V. Lucas' text instead.

To Coleridge (1796):
There are times when one is not in a disposition thoroughly to relish good writing.
To Coleridge (June 16, 1796):
In the words of Terence, a little altered, Taedet me hujus quotidiani mundi, I am heartily sick of the every-day scenes of life.
To Coleridge (Oct, 3, 1796):
I mention these things because I hate concealment, and love to give a faithful journal of what passes within me.
To Coleridge (Oct. 28, 1796):
Have you made it up with Southey yet? Surely one of you two must have been a very silly fellow, and the other not much better, to fall out like boarding-school misses. Kiss, shake hands, and make it up.
To Coleridge (Nov. 14, 1796):
But there is a monotony in the affections, which people living together or, as we do now, very frequently seeing each other, are apt to give in to: a sort of indifference in the expression of kindness for each other, which demands that we should sometimes call to our aid the trickery of surprise.
To Coleridge (Dec. 5, 1796):
I am glad you love Cowper. I could forgive a man for not enjoying Milton, but I would not call that man my friend, who should be offended with the "divine chit-chat of Cowper."
To Coleridge (Dec. 9, 1796; cf. such changes in Psalms):
There is a pensive state of recollection, in which the mind is disposed to apostrophise the departed objects of its attachment, and, breaking loose from grammatical precision, changes from the 1st to the 3rd, and from the 3rd to the 1st person, just as the random fancy or the feeling directs.
To Coleridge (Dec. 10, 1796):
I can only converse with you by letter and with the dead in their books.
To Coleridge (Jan 10, 1797):
I gain nothing by being with such as myself—we encourage one another in mediocrity—I am always longing to be with men more excellent than myself.
To Coleridge (Jan. 10, 1797):
Books are to me instead of friends.
To Coleridge (Feb. 5, 1797):
I grow dull; I'll go walk myself out of my dullness.
To Coleridge (Feb. 13, 1797):
'Tis the privilege of friendship to talk nonsense, and to have her nonsense respected.
To Coleridge (April 7, 1797):
Do what you will, Coleridge, you may hurt me and vex me by your silence, but you cannot estrange my heart from you all. I cannot scatter friendships like chuck-farthings, nor let them drop from mine hand like hour-glass sand. I have two or three people in the world to whom I am more than indifferent, and I can't afford to whistle them off to the winds.
To Coleridge (June 24, 1797):
I am ashamed of what I write. But I have no topic to talk of. I see nobody, and sit, and read or walk, alone, and hear nothing. I am quite lost to conversation from disuse; and out of the sphere of my little family (who I am thankful are dearer and dearer to me every day), I see no face that brightens up at my approach.
To Coleridge (Jan. 28, 1798):
Any society almost, when I am in affliction, is sorely painful to me. I seem to breathe more freely, to think more collectedly, to feel more properly and calmly, when alone.
To Southey (July 28, 1798):
To Southey (March 15, 1799):
A moral should be wrought into the body and soul, the matter and tendency, of a poem, not tagged to the end, like a "God send the good ship into harbour," at the conclusion of our bills of lading.
To Southey (March 15, 1799):
These remarks, I know, are crude and unwrought; but I do not lay claim to much accurate thinking. I never judge system-wise of things, but fasten upon particulars.
To Manning (Feb. 13, 1800):
But you see it in one view, I in another. Rest you merry in your opinion! Opinion is a species of property; and though I am always desirous to share with my friend to a certain extent, I shall ever like to keep some tenets and some property properly my own.
To Manning (March 1, 1800):
Public affairs—except as they touch upon me, and so turn into private,—I cannot whip up my mind to feel any interest in....I cannot make these present times present to me.
To Coleridge (summer 1800):
You know I am homo unius linguae: in English—illiterate, a dunce, a ninny.
To Manning (Oct. 16, 1800):
I can employ myself in Cambridge very pleasantly in the mornings. Are there not libraries, halls, colleges, books, pictures, statues?
To Coleridge (Nov. 4, 1802):
If you find the Miltons in certain parts dirtied and soiled with a crumb of right Gloucester blacked in the candle (my usual supper), or peradventure a stray ash of tobacco wafted into the crevices, look to that passage more especially: depend upon it, it contains good matter.
To Manning (1803, of the Parisians):
Are the women all painted, and the men all monkeys?
To Manning (1803):
You are Frenchified. Both your tastes and morals are corrupt and perverted.
To Wordsworth (Oct. 13, 1804):
I am not plethorically abounding in cash at this present.
To Manning (Feb. 26, 1808):
Why, in general (here I suppose you to ask a question) my spirits are pretty good, but I have my depressions, black as a smith's beard, Vulcanic, Stygian.
To Manning (March 28, 1809):
What a dislocation of comfort is comprised in that word "moving"! Such a heap of little nasty things, after you think all is got into the cart: old dredging-boxes, worn-out brushes, gallipots, vials, things that it is impossible the most necessitous person can ever want, but which the women, who preside on these occasions, will not leave behind if it was to save your soul; they'd keep the cart ten minutes to stow in dirty pipes and broken matches, to show their economy. Then you can find nothing you want for many days after you get into your new lodgings. You must comb your hair with your fingers, wash your hands without soap, go about in dirty gaiters. Was I Diogenes, I would not move out of a kilderkin into a hogshead, though the first had had nothing but small beer in it, and the second reeked claret.
To Manning (Jan. 2, 1810):
I have made a little scale, supposing myself to receive the following various accessions of dignity from the king, who is the fountain of honour—As at first, 1, Mr. C. Lamb; 2, C. Lamb, Esq.; 3, Sir C. Lamb, Bart.; 4, Baron Lamb of Stamford; 5, Viscount Lamb; 6, Earl Lamb; 7, Marquis Lamb; 8, Duke Lamb. It would look like quibbling to carry it on further...I have sometimes in my dreams imagined myself still advancing, as 9th, King Lamb; 10th, Emperor Lamb; 11th, Pope Innocent, higher than which is nothing but the Lamb of God.
To Basil Montagu (July 12, 1810):
Travelling is not good for us—we travel so seldom. If the Sun be Hell, it is not for the fire, but for the sempiternal motion of that miserable Body of Light. How much more dignified leisure hath a mussel glued to his unpassable rocky limit, two inch square!
To William Godwin (n.d.):
I hate the pedantry of expressing that in another language which we have sufficient terms for in our own.
To Wordsworth (1815):
Confusion blast all mercantile transactions, all traffic, exchange of commodities, intercourse between nations, all the consequent civilization and wealth and amity and link of society, and getting rid of prejudices, and knowlege of the face of the globe; and rot the very firs of the forest that look so romantic alive, and die into desks.
To Wordsworth (Aug. 9, 1815):
What any man can write, surely I may read.
To Wordsworth (April 9, 1816):
Nature, who conducts every creature by instinct to its best end, has skilfully directed C. to take up his abode at a Chemist's Laboratory in Norfolk Street. She might as well have sent a Helluo Librorum for cure to the Vatican.
To Wordsworth (April 26, 1816):
Izaak Walton hallows any page in which his reverend name appears.
To the Kenneys (Oct. 1816):
Lord, what things you see that travel! I dare say the people are all French wherever you go. What an overwhelming effect that must have! I have stood one of 'em at a time, but two I generally found overpowering, I used to cut and run; but, then, in their own vineyards may be they are endurable enough.
To Mrs. Wordsworth (Feb. 18, 1818):
O the pleasure of eating alone!—eating my dinner alone! let me think of it....I am never C.L. but always C.L. and Co.
To Mrs. Wordsworth (Feb. 18, 1818):
I was deceived in the length to which Heads of offices, those true Liberty haters, can go. They are the tyrants, not Ferdinand, nor Nero—by a decree past this week, they have abridged us of the immemorially observed custom of going at one o'clock of a Saturday, the little shadow of a holiday left us. Blast them.

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