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Sydney Smith Essays Of Elia

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Summary of the Essay OLD CHINA by Charles Lamb

Charles Lamb had a sentimental attachment to old china-cups, plates, jars and the like which are generally known as china-ware.  Whenever he visited a great house, he used to enquire first about the china-closet and then about the picture-gallery.  He did not remember when this love was planted in him. 

The pictures on old-china tea-cups are drawn without any sense of perspective.  The eye helps us in making up the sense of distance.  The figures may be up in the air but a speck of blue under their feet represents the earth.  The men on these cups and jars have women’s faces and the women have more womanish expressions. 

One of the cups has the picture of a young and courtly Mandarin, handing tea to a lady from a salver.  Between the two is a distance of only two miles.  On another side there is the same lady or another.  On tea-cups things similar are things identical.  She is stepping into a little fairy boat.  There is a river beside a garden.  At a distance are houses, trees, pagodas, country dances, a cow and a rabbit.  Lamb was pointing out these to his sister over a cup of tea.  This sister is represented as his cousin Bridget in the essays.   She was caught in the memory of their past.  So she started a long lecture.  She wanted Elia not to forget the past.
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Bridget wished for a return of the good old times when they were not quite so rich.  She did not want to be poor, nor did she like to be rich.  She wanted to get back to that state when they were neither rich nor poor, and in that state they were much happier.  Now if they buy something it has no other value except that of the money spent on it.  In the old days every purchase was a triumph.  Before they purchased anything, they used to argue about it and about their expenses for two or three days.  All the arguments for and against were duly considered, and then they would think about an item of expenditure where they could save something.  Thus they were inconvenienced by the money spent on the object purchased, and this raised the value of the purchase.
Lamb used to wear the same brown suit which used to change on him even after it was in rags.  This he did because they wanted to purchase the folio edition of the plays of Beanment and Fletcher.  For weeks they looked at the volume before they could decide whether to purchase it, and then at ten o’ clock of a Saturday night they ran to the shop and paid for it.  But now he wears neat black clothes because he has become rich and finical; and he goes about purchasing any book or any print he likes. 

In the past they would walk to Enfield and Potter’s Bar, and Waltham on a holiday.  They would go there with their meagre lunch and enter in a decent inn.  There they were lucky having an honest hostess like the one described by Izaak Walton in his The Complete Angler.  Formerly, they used to sit in the pit to witness the dramatic performances.  They squeezed out their shillings to sit in the one shilling gallery.  There Elia felt many a time that he ought not to have brought Bridget who was grateful to him for having brought her there.  When the curtain was drawn up, it did not matter where one sat.  So Elia used to say that “the Gallery was the best place of all for enjoying a play socially”.  The spectators in the Gallery were illiterate ones who never read the plays and who therefore were highly attentive to the play.  Bridget received the best attention there because there was chivalry still left, but now Elia cannot see a play from the Gallery.  So Bridget says that his sight disappeared with his poverty.
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In the past, they used to eat strawberries; at that time they did not become quite common.  Now they cannot have such a treat.  Elia may now say that it is better to have a clean balance-sheet at the end of the year.  But there was a different pleasure in the past.  On the night of the 31st December, they used to argue accounting for the excess in the expenditure.  At last they pocketed up their loss and welcomed the New Year.  Now there is not such accounting, and there are “no flattering promises about the new year doing better for them”.

As long as Bridget was in a rhetorical vein speaking thus, Elia kept quiet.  At last he told her that they must put up with the excess.  He said that they must be thankful for their early struggles.  Because of the past suffering, they were drawn together.  “We must ride, where we formerly walked; live better, and lie softer.”


Page 171. PREFACE.

London Magazine, January, 1823, where it was entitled “A Character of the late Elia. By a Friend.” Signed Phil–Elia. Lamb did not reprint it for ten years, and then with certain omissions.

In the London Magazine the “Character” began thus:—



“This gentleman, who for some months past had been in a declining way, hath at length paid his final tribute to nature. He just lived long enough (it was what he wished) to see his papers collected into a volume. The pages of the LONDON MAGAZINE will henceforth know him no more.

“Exactly at twelve last night his queer spirit departed, and the bells of Saint Bride’s rang him out with the old year. The mournful vibrations were caught in the dining-room of his friends T. and H.; and the company, assembled there to welcome in another First of January, checked their carousals in mid-mirth and were silent. Janus wept. The gentle P——r, in a whisper, signified his intention of devoting an Elegy; and Allan C— — nobly forgetful of his countrymen’s wrongs, vowed a Memoir to his manes, full and friendly as a Tale of Lyddal-cross.”

Elia had just been published when this paper appeared, and it was probably Lamb’s serious intention to stop the series. He was, however, prevailed to continue. T. and H. were Taylor & Hessey, the owners of the London Magazine. Janus was Janus Weathercock, Thomas Griffiths Wainewright; P——r was Bryan Waller Procter, or Barry Cornwall, who afterwards wrote Lamb’s life, and Allan C—— was Allan Cunningham, who called himself “Nalla” in the London Magazine. “The Twelve Tales of Lyddal Cross” ran serially in the magazine in 1822.

Page 171, line 9 from foot. A former Essay. In the London Magazine “his third essay,” referring to “Christ’s Hospital Five and Thirty Years Ago.”

Page 172, line 7. My late friend. The opening sentences of this paragraph seem to have been deliberately modelled, as indeed is the whole essay, upon Sterne’s character of Yorick in Tristram Shandy, Vol. I., Chapter XI.

Page 172, line 12 from foot. It was hit or miss with him. Canon Ainger has pointed out that Lamb’s description of himself in company is corroborated by Hazlitt in his essay “On Coffee–House Politicians”:—

I will, however, admit that the said Elia is the worst company in the world in bad company, if it be granted me that in good company he is nearly the best that can be. He is one of those of whom it may be said, Tell me your company, and I’ll tell you your manners. He is the creature of sympathy, and makes good whatever opinion you seem to entertain of him. He cannot outgo the apprehensions of the circle; and invariably acts up or down to the point of refinement or vulgarity at which they pitch him. He appears to take a pleasure in exaggerating the prejudices of strangers against him; a pride in confirming the prepossessions of friends. In whatever scale of intellect he is placed, he is as lively or as stupid as the rest can be for their lives. If you think him odd and ridiculous, he becomes more and more so every minute, à la folie, till he is a wonder gazed at by all — set him against a good wit and a ready apprehension, and he brightens more and more . . .

P.G. Patmore’s testimony is also corroborative:—

To those who did not know him, or, knowing, did not or could not appreciate him, Lamb often passed for something between an imbecile, a brute, and a buffoon; and the first impression he made on ordinary people was always unfavourable — sometimes to a violent and repulsive degree.

Page 174, line 3. Some of his writings. In the London Magazine the essay did not end here. It continued:—

“He left property behind him. Of course, the little that is left (chiefly in India bonds) devolves upon his cousin Bridget. A few critical dissertations were found in his escritoire, which have been handed over to the Editor of this Magazine, in which it is to be hoped they will shortly appear, retaining his accustomed signature.

“He has himself not obscurely hinted that his employment lay in a public office. The gentlemen in the Export department of the East India House will forgive me, if I acknowledge the readiness with which they assisted me in the retrieval of his few manuscripts. They pointed out in a most obliging manner the desk at which he had been planted for forty years; showed me ponderous tomes of figures, in his own remarkably neat hand, which, more properly than his few printed tracts, might be called his ‘Works.’ They seemed affectionate to his memory, and universally commended his expertness in book-keeping. It seems he was the inventor of some ledger, which should combine the precision and certainty of the Italian double entry (I think they called it) with the brevity and facility of some newer German system — but I am not able to appreciate the worth of the discovery. I have often heard him express a warm regard for his associates in office, and how fortunate he considered himself in having his lot thrown in amongst them. There is more sense, more discourse, more shrewdness, and even talent, among these clerks (he would say) than in twice the number of authors by profession that I have conversed with. He would brighten up sometimes upon the ‘old days of the India House,’ when he consorted with Woodroffe, and Wissett, and Peter Corbet (a descendant and worthy representative, bating the point of sanctity, of old facetious Bishop Corbet), and Hoole who translated Tasso, and Bartlemy Brown whose father (God assoil him therefore) modernised Walton — and sly warm-hearted old Jack Cole (King Cole they called him in those days), and Campe, and Fombelle — and a world of choice spirits, more than I can remember to name, who associated in those days with Jack Burrell (the bon vivant of the South Sea House), and little Eyton (said to be a facsimile of Pope — he was a miniature of a gentleman) that was cashier under him, and Dan Voight of the Custom House that left the famous library.

“Well, Elia is gone — for aught I know, to be reunited with them — and these poor traces of his pen are all we have to show for it. How little survives of the wordiest authors! Of all they said or did in their lifetime, a few glittering words only! His Essays found some favourers, as they appeared separately; they shuffled their way in the crowd well enough singly; how they will read, now they are brought together, is a question for the publishers, who have thus ventured to draw out into one piece his ‘weaved-up follies.’


This passage calls for some remark. Cousin Bridget was, of course, Mary Lamb. — Lamb repeated the joke about his Works in his “Autobiography” (see Vol. I.) and in “The Superannuated Man.”— Some record of certain of the old clerks mentioned by Lamb still remains; but I can find nothing of the others. Whether or not Peter Corbet really derived from the Bishop we do not know, but the facetious Bishop Corbet was Richard Corbet (1582–1635), Bishop of Oxford and Norwich, whose conviviality was famous and who wrote the “Fairies’ Farewell.” John Hoole (1727–1803), who translated Tasso and wrote the life of Scott of Amwell and a number of other works, was principal auditor at the end of his time at the India House. He retired about 1785, when Lamb was ten years old. Writing to Coleridge on January 5, 1797, Lamb speaks of Hoole as “the great boast and ornament of the India House,” and says that he found Tasso, in Hoole’s translation, “more vapid than smallest small beer sun-vinegared.” The moderniser of Walton would be Moses Browne (1704–1787), whose edition of The Complete Angler, 1750, was undertaken at the suggestion of Dr. Johnson.


London Magazine, September, 1824.

With this essay Lamb made his reappearance in the magazine, after eight months’ absence.

By Blakesmoor Lamb meant Blakesware, the manor-house near Widford, in Hertfordshire, where his grandmother, Mary Field, had been housekeeper for many years. Compare the essay “Dream–Children.”

Blakesware, which was built by Sir Francis Leventhorpe about 1640, became the property of the Plumers in 1683, being then purchased by John Plumer, of New Windsor, who died in 1718. It descended to William Plumer, M.P. for Yarmouth, in the Isle of Wight, and afterwards for Hertfordshire, who died in 1767, and was presumably Mrs. Field’s first employer. His widow and the younger children remained at Blakesware until Mrs. Plumer’s death in 1778, but the eldest son, William Plumer, moved at once to Gilston, a few miles east of Blakesware, a mansion which for a long time was confused with Blakesware by commentators on Lamb. This William Plumer, who was M.P. for Lewes, for Hertfordshire, and finally for Higham Ferrers, and a governor of Christ’s Hospital, kept up Blakesware after his mother’s death in 1778 (when Lamb was three) exactly as before, but it remained empty save for Mrs. Field and the servants under her. Mrs. Field became thus practically mistress of it, as Lamb says in “Dream–Children.” Hence the increased happiness of her grandchildren when they visited her. Mrs. Field died in 1792, when Lamb was seventeen. William Plumer died in 1822, aged eighty-six, having apparently arranged with his widow, who continued at Gilston, that Blakesware should be pulled down — a work of demolition which at once was begun. This lady, née Jane Hamilton, afterwards married a Mr. Lewin, and then, in 1828, Robert Ward (1765–1846), author of Tremaine and other novels, who took the name of Plumer–Ward, and may be read of, together with curious details of Gilston House, in P.G. Patmore’s My Friends and Acquaintances.

Nothing now remains but a few mounds, beneath which are bricks and rubble. The present house is a quarter of a mile behind the old one, high on the hill. In Lamb’s day this hillside was known as the Wilderness, and where now is turf were formal walks with clipped yew hedges and here and there a statue. The stream of which he speaks is the Ashe, running close by the walls of the old house. Standing there now, among the trees which mark its site, it is easy to reconstruct the past as described in the essay.

The Twelve Cæsars, the tapestry and other more notable possessions of Blakesware, although moved to Gilston on the demolition of Blakesware, are there no longer, and their present destination is a mystery. Gilston was pulled down in 1853, following upon a sale by auction, when all its treasures were dispersed. Some, I have discovered, were bought by the enterprising tenant of the old Rye House Inn at Broxbourne, but absolute identification of anything now seems impossible.

Blakesware is again described in Mrs. Leicester’s School, in Mary Lamb’s story of “The Young Mahometan.” There the Twelve Cæsars are spoken of as hanging on the wall, as if they were medallions; but Mr. E.S. Bowlby tells me that he perfectly remembers the Twelve Cæsars at Gilston, about 1850, as busts, just as Lamb says. In “Rosamund Gray” (see Vol. I.) Lamb describes the Blakesware wilderness. See also notes to “The Last Peach,” Vol. I., to “Dream–Children” in this volume, and to “Going or Gone,” Vol. IV.

Lamb has other references to Blakesware and the irrevocability of his happiness there as a child, in his letters. Writing to Southey on October 31, 1799, he says:—“Dear Southey — I have but just got your letter, being returned from Herts, where I have passed a few red-letter days with much pleasure. I would describe the county to you, as you have done by Devonshire; but alas! I am a poor pen at that same. I could tell you of an old house with a tapestry bedroom, the ‘Judgment of Solomon’ composing one pannel, and ‘Actæon spying Diana naked’ the other. I could tell of an old marble hall, with Hogarth’s prints, and the Roman Cæsars in marble hung round. I could tell of a wilderness, and of a village church, and where the bones of my honoured grandam lie; but there are feelings which refuse to be translated, sulky aborigines, which will not be naturalised in another soil. Of this nature are old family faces, and scenes of infancy.”

And again, to Bernard Barton, in August, 1827:—“You have well described your old-fashioned grand paternall Hall. Is it not odd that every one’s earliest recollections are of some such place. I had my Blakesware (Blakesmoor in the ‘London’). Nothing fills a child’s mind like a large old Mansion . . . better if un or partially-occupied; peopled with the spirits of deceased members of the County and Justices of the Quorum. Would I were buried in the peopled solitude of one, with my feelings at 7 years old!

“Those marble busts of the Emperors, they seem’d as if they were to stand for ever, as they had stood from the living days of Rome, in that old Marble Hall, and I to partake of their permanency; Eternity was, while I thought not of Time. But he thought of me, and they are toppled down, and corn covers the spot of the noble old Dwelling and its princely gardens. I feel like a grasshopper that chirping about the grounds escaped his scythe only by my littleness. Ev’n now he is whetting one of his smallest razors to clean wipe me out, perhaps. Well!”

Writing to Barton in August, 1824, concerning the present essay, Lamb describes it as a “futile effort . . . ‘wrung from me with slow pain’.”

Page 175, line 15 from foot. Mrs. Battle. There was a haunted room at Blakesware, but the suggestion that the famous Mrs. Battle died in it was probably due to a sudden whimsical impulse. Lamb states in “Dream–Children” that Mrs. Field occupied this room.

Page 177, line 22. The hills of Lincoln. See Lamb’s sonnet “On the Family Name,” Vol. IV. Lamb’s father came from Lincoln.

Page 177, line 11 from foot. Those old W——s. Lamb thus disguised the name of Plumer. He could not have meant Wards, for Robert Ward did not marry William Plumer’s widow till four years after this essay was printed.

Page 178, line 2. My Alice. See notes to “Dream–Children.”

Page 178, line 2. Mildred Elia, I take it. Alter these words, in the London Magazine, came this passage:—

“From her, and from my passion for her — for I first learned love from a picture — Bridget took the hint of those pretty whimsical lines, which thou mayst see, if haply thou hast never seen them, Reader, in the margin.33 But my Mildred grew not old, like the imaginery Helen.”

This ballad, written in gentle ridicule of Lamb’s affection for the Blakesware portrait, and Mary Lamb’s first known poem, was printed in the John Woodvil volume, 1802, and in the Works, 1818.


“High-born Helen, round your dwelling,

These twenty years I’ve paced in vain:

Haughty beauty, thy lover’s duty

Hath been to glory in his pain.

“High-born Helen, proudly telling

Stories of thy cold disdain;

I starve, I die, now you comply,

And I no longer can complain.

“These twenty years I’ve lived on tears,

Dwelling for ever on a frown;

On sighs I’ve fed, your scorn my bread;

I perish now you kind are grown.

“Can I, who loved ray beloved

But for the scorn ‘was in her eye,’

Can I be moved for my beloved,

When she returns me sigh for sigh?

“In stately pride, by my bedside,

High-born Helen’s portrait hung;

Deaf to my praise, my mournful lays

Are nightly to the portrait sung.

“To that I weep, nor ever sleep,

Complaining all night long to her. —

Helen, grown old, no longer cold,

Said —‘you to all men I prefer.’”


London Magazine, May, 1823.

Page 179, line 10. A pound of sweet. After these words, in the London Magazine, came one more descriptive clause —“the bore par excellence.”

Page 181, line 4, Richard Amlet, Esq. In “The Confederacy” by Sir John Vanbrugh — a favourite part of John Palmer’s (see the essay “On Some of the Old Actors”).

Page 181, line 16. Poor W——. In the Key Lamb identifies W—— with Favell, who “left Cambridge because he was asham’d of his father, who was a house-painter there.” Favell has already been mentioned in the essay on “Christ’s Hospital.”

Page 183, line 22. At Lincoln. The Lambs, as we have seen, came from Lincolnshire. The old feud between the Above and Below Boys seems now to have abated, but a social gulf between the two divisions of the city remains.

Page 184, line 11 from foot. John Billet. Probably not the real name. Lamb gives the innkeeper at Widford, in “Rosamund Gray,” the name of Billet, when it was really Clemitson.


London Magazine, August, 1825, where it was entitled “Imperfect Dramatic Illusion.”

This was, I think, Lamb’s last contribution to the London, which had been growing steadily heavier and less hospitable to gaiety. Some one, however, contributed to it from time to time papers more or less in the Elian manner. There had been one in July, 1825, on the Widow Fairlop, a lady akin to “The Gentle Giantess.” In September, 1825, was an essay entitled “The Sorrows of ** ***” (an ass), which might, both from style and sympathy, be almost Lamb’s; but was, I think, by another hand. And in January, 1826, there was an article on whist, with quotations from Mrs. Battle, deliberately derived from her creator. These and other essays are printed in Mr. Bertram Dobell’s Sidelights on Charles Lamb, 1903, with interesting comments.

The present essay to some extent continues the subject treated of in “The Artificial Comedy,” but it may be taken also as containing some of the matter of the promised continuation of the essay “On the Tragedies of Shakspeare,” which was to deal with the comic characters of that dramatist (see Vol. I.).

Page 185, line 15 from foot. Jack Bannister. See notes to the essay on “The Old Actors.” His greatest parts were not those of cowards; but his Bob Acres was justly famous. Sir Anthony Absolute and Tony Lumpkin were perhaps his chief triumphs. He left the stage in 1815.

Page 186, line 24. Gatty. Henry Gattie (1774–1844), famous for old-man parts, notably Monsieur Morbleu in Moncrieffs “Monsieur Tonson.” He was also the best Dr. Caius, in “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” of his time. He left the stage in 1833, and settled down as a tobacconist and raconteur at Oxford.

Page 186, line 30. Mr. Emery. John Emery (1777–1822), the best impersonator of countrymen in his day. Zekiel Homespun in Colman’s “Heir at Law” was one of his great parts. Tyke was in Morton’s “School of Reform,” produced in 1805, and no one has ever played it so well. He also played Caliban with success.

Page 187, line 4 from foot. A very judicious actor. This actor I have not identified. Benjamin Wrench (1778–1843) was a dashing comedian, a Wyndham of his day. In “Free and Easy” he played Sir John Freeman.


Englishman’s Magazine, August, 1831, where it formed, with the following essay, one article, under the title “Reminiscences of Elliston.”

Robert William Elliston (1774–1831), actor and manager, famous for his stage lovers, both in comedy and tragedy. His Charles Surface was said to be unequalled, and both in Hotspur and Hamlet he was great. His last performance was in June, 1831, a very short time before his death.

Page 189, line 7. Thin ghosts. In the London Magazine the passage ran:—

“Thin ghosts of Figurantes (never plump on earth) admire, while with uplifted toe retributive you inflict vengeance incorporeal upon the shadowy rear of obnoxious author, just arrived:—

“‘what seem’d his tail

The likeness of a kingly kick had on.

* * * *

“‘Yet soon he heals: for spirits, that live throughout

Vital in every part, not as frail man

In entrails, head, or heart, liver or veins,

Can in the liquid texture mortal wound

Receive no more, than can the liquid air,

All heart they live, all head, all eye.’”

Page 189, line 11 from foot. À la Foppington. In Vanbrugh’s “Relapse.”

In the Englishman’s Magazine the article ended, after “Plaudito, et Valeto,” with: “Thy friend upon Earth, though thou did’st connive at his d —— n.”

The article was signed Mr. H., the point being that Elliston had played Mr. H. at Drury Lane in Lamb’s unlucky farce of that name in 1806.


See note at the head of “To the Shade of Elliston,” above.

Page 190, line 3 of essay. My first introduction. This paragraph was a footnote in the Englishman’s Magazine. Elliston, according to the Memoirs of him by George Raymond, which have Lamb’s phrase, “Joyousest of once embodied spirits,” for motto, opened a circulating library at Leamington in the name of his sons William and Henry, and served there himself at times.

Possibly Lamb was visiting Charles Chambers at Leamington when he saw Elliston. That he did see him there we know from Raymond’s book, where an amusing occurrence is described, illustrating Munden’s frugality. It seems that Lamb, Elliston and Munden drove together to Warwick Castle. On returning Munden stopped the carriage just outside Leamington, on the pretext that he had to make a call on an old friend — a regular device, as Elliston explained, to avoid being present at the inn when the hire of the carriage was paid.

Page 191, line 11. Wrench. See notes to “The Old Actors.” Wrench succeeded Elliston at Bath, and played in the same parts, and with something of the same manner.

Page 191, line 11 from foot. Appelles . . . G.D. Apelles, painter to Alexander the Great, was said to let no day pass without experimenting with his pencil. G.D. was George Dyer, whom we first met in “Oxford in the Vacation.”

Page 192, line 6. Ranger. In Hoadley’s “Suspicious Husband,” one of Elliston’s great parts.

Page 192, line 17 from foot. Cibber. Colley Cibber (1671–1757), the actor, who was a very vain man, created the part of Foppington in 1697 — his first great success.

Page 192, last line. St. Dunstan’s . . . punctual giants. Old St. Dunstan Church, in Fleet Street, had huge figures which struck the hours, and which disappeared with the church, pulled down to make room for the present one some time before 1831. They are mentioned in Emily Barton’s story in Mrs. Leicester’s School (see Vol. III.). Moxon records that Lamb shed tears when the figures were taken away.

Page 193, line 6. Drury Lane. Drury Lane opened, under Elliston’s management, on October 4, 1819, with “Wild Oats,” in which he played Rover. He left the theatre, a bankrupt, in 1826.

Page 193, line 19. The . . . Olympic. Lamb is wrong in his dates. Elliston’s tenancy of the Olympic preceded his reign at Drury Lane. It was to the Surrey that he retired after the Drury Lane period, producing there Jerrold’s “Black–Eyed Susan” in 1829.

Page 193, line 12 from foot. Sir A—— C——. Sir Anthony Carlisle (see note to “A Quakers’ Meeting”).

Page 194, line 7. A Vestris. Madame Vestris (1797–1856), the great comédienne, who was one of Elliston’s stars at Drury Lane.

Page 195, line 6. Latinity. Elliston was buried in St. John’s Church, Waterloo Road, and a marble slab with a Latin inscription by Nicholas Torre, his son-inlaw, is on the wall. Elliston was the nephew of Dr. Elliston, Master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, who sent him to St. Paul’s School — not, however, that founded by Colet — but to St. Paul’s School, Covent Garden. He was intended for the Church.


London Magazine, July, 1822, where, at the end, were the words, “To be continued;” but Lamb did not return to the topic.

For some curious reason Lamb passed over this essay when collecting Elia for the press. It was not republished till 1833, in the Last Essays.

Page 195, motto. The Relapse. The comedy by Sir John Vanbrugh. Lamb liked this quotation. He uses it in his letter about William Wordsworth, junior, to Dorothy Wordsworth, November 25, 1819; and again in his “Reminiscence of Sir Jeffery Dunstan” (see Vol. I.).

Page 195, foot. I can read any thing which I call a book. Writing to Wordsworth in August, 1815, Lamb says: “What any man can write, surely I may read.”

Page 195, last line. Pocket Books. In the London Magazine Lamb added in parenthesis “the literary excepted,” the reference being to the Literary Pocket Book which Leigh Hunt brought out annually from 1819 to 1822.

Page 196, line 2. Hume . . . Jenyns. Hume would be David Hume (1711–1776), the philosopher and historian of England; Edward Gibbon (1737–1794), historian of Rome; William Robertson, D.D. (1721–1793), historian of America, Charles V., Scotland and India; James Beattie (1735–1803), author of “The Minstrel” and a number of essays, who had, however, one recommendation to Lamb, of which Lamb may have been unaware — he loved Vincent Bourne’s poems and was one of the first to praise them; and Soame Jenyns (1704–1787), author of The Art of Dancing, and the Inquiry into Evil which Johnson reviewed so mercilessly. It is stated in Moore’s Diary, according to Procter, that Lamb “excluded from his library Robertson, Gibbon and Hume, and made instead a collection of the works of the heroes of The Dunciad.”

Page 196, line 14. Population Essay. That was the day of population essays. Malthus’s Essay on Population, 1798, had led to a number of replies.

Page 196, line 22. My ragged veterans. Crabb Robinson recorded in his diary that Lamb had the “finest collection of shabby books” he ever saw; “such a number of first-rate works in very bad condition is, I think, nowhere to be found.” Leigh Hunt stated in his essay on “My Books” in The Literary Examiner, July 5, 1823, that Lamb’s library had

an handsome contempt for appearance. It looks like what it is, a selection made at precious intervals from the book-stalls; — now a Chaucer at nine and twopence; now a Montaigne or a Sir Thomas Browne at two shillings; now a Jeremy Taylor, a Spinoza; an old English Dramatist, Prior, and Sir Philip Sidney; and the books are “neat as imported.” The very perusal of the backs is a “discipline of humanity.” There Mr. Southey takes his place again with an old Radical friend: there Jeremy Collier is at peace with Dryden: there the lion, Martin Luther, lies down with the Quaker lamb, Sewel: there Guzman d’Alfarache thinks himself fit company for Sir Charles Grandison, and has his claims admitted. Even the “high fantastical” Duchess of Newcastle, with her laurel on her head, is received with grave honours, and not the less for declining to trouble herself with the constitutions of her maids.

It is in the same essay that Leigh Hunt mentions that he once saw Lamb kiss an old folio — Chapman’s Homer — the work he paraphrased for children under the title The Adventures of Ulysses.

Page 197, line 15. Life of the Duke of Newcastle. Lamb’s copy, a folio containing also the “Philosophical Letters,” is in America.

Page 197, line 20. Sydney, Bishop Taylor, Milton . . . I cannot say where are Lamb’s copies of Sidney and Fuller; but the British Museum has his Milton, rich in MS. notes, a two-volume edition, 1751. The Taylor, which Lamb acquired in 1798, is the 1678 folio Sermons. I cannot say where it now is.

Page 197, line 26. Shakspeare. Lamb’s Shakespeare was not sold at the sale of his library; only a copy of the Poems, 12mo, 1714. His annotated copy of the Poems, 1640, is in America. There is a reference to one of Rowe’s plates in the essay “My First Play.” The Shakespeare gallery engravings were the costly series of illustrations to Shakespeare commissioned by John Boydell (1719–1804), Lord Mayor of London in 1790. The pictures were exhibited in the Shakespeare Gallery in Pall Mall, and the engravings were published in 1802.

After the word “Shakespeare,” in the London Magazine, came the sentence: “You cannot make a pet book of an author whom everybody reads.”

In a letter to Wordsworth, February 1, 1806, Lamb says: “Shakespear is one of the last books one should like to give up, perhaps the one just before the Dying Service in a large Prayer book.” In the same letter he says of binding: “The Law Robe I have ever thought as comely and gentlemanly a garb as a Book would wish to wear.”

Page 197, line 7 from foot. Beaumont and Fletcher. See note to “The Two Races of Men” for an account of Lamb’s copy, now in the British Museum.

Page 197, line 5 from foot. No sympathy with them. After these words, in the London Magazine, came, “nor with Mr. Gifford’s Ben Jonson.” This edition by Lamb’s old enemy, William Gifford, editor of the Quarterly, was published in 1816. Lamb’s copy of Ben Jonson was dated 1692, folio. It is now in America, I believe.

Page 197, foot. The reprint of the Anatomy of Melancholy. This reprint was, I think, published in 1800, in two volumes, marked ninth edition. Lamb’s copy was dated 1621, quarto. I do not know where it now is.

Page 198, line 4. Malone. This was Edmund Malone (1741–1812), the critic and editor of Shakespeare, who in 1793 persuaded the Vicar of Stratford-on-Avon to whitewash the coloured bust of the poet in the chancel. A Gentleman’s Magazine epigrammatist, sharing Lamb’s view, wrote:—

Stranger, to whom this monument is shown,

Invoke the poet’s curse upon Malone;

Whose meddling zeal his barbarous taste betrays,

And daubs his tombstone, as he mars his plays.

Lamb has been less than fair to Malone. To defend his action in the matter of the bust of Shakespeare is impossible, except by saying that he acted in good faith and according to the fashion of his time. But he did great service to the fame of Shakespeare and thus to English literature, and was fearless and shrewd in his denunciation of the impostor Ireland.

Page 198, line 26. The Fairy Queen. Lamb’s copy was a folio, 1617, 12, 17, 13. Against Canto XI., Stanza 32, he has written: “Dear Venom, this is the stave I wot of. I will maintain it against any in the book.”

Page 199, line 14. Nando’s. A coffee-house in Fleet Street, at the east corner of Inner Temple Lane, and thus at one time close to Lamb’s rooms.

Page 199, line 16. “The Chronicle is in hand, Sir.” In the London Magazine the following paragraph was here inserted:—

“As in these little Diurnals I generally skip the Foreign News, the Debates — and the Politics — I find the Morning Herald by far the most entertaining of them. It is an agreeable miscellany, rather than a newspaper.”

The Morning Herald, under Alexander Chalmers, had given more attention to social gossip than to affairs of State; but under Thomas Wright it suddenly, about the time of Lamb’s essay, became politically serious and left aristocratic matters to the Morning Post.

Page 199, line 20. Town and Country Magazine. This magazine flourished between 1769 and 1792.

Page 199, line 26. Poor Tobin. Possibly John Tobin (1770–1804), the playwright, though I think not. More probably the Tobin mentioned in Lamb’s letter to Wordsworth about “Mr. H.” in June, 1806 (two years after John Tobin’s death), to whom Lamb read the manager’s letter concerning the farce. This would be James, John Tobin’s brother.

Page 200, line 13. The five points. After these words came, in the London Magazine, the following paragraph:—

“I was once amused — there is a pleasure in affecting affectation — at the indignation of a crowd that was justling in with me at the pit-door of Covent Garden theatre, to have a sight of Master Betty — then at once in his dawn and his meridian — in Hamlet. I had been invited quite unexpectedly to join a party, whom I met near the door of the playhouse, and I happened to have in my hand a large octavo of Johnson and Steevens’s Shakspeare, which, the time not admitting of my carrying it home, of course went with me to the theatre. Just in the very heat and pressure of the doors opening — the rush, as they term it — I deliberately held the volume over my head, open at the scene in which the young Roscius had been most cried up, and quietly read by the lamplight. The clamour became universal. ‘The affectation of the fellow,’ cried one. ‘Look at that gentleman reading, papa,’ squeaked a young lady, who in her admiration of the novelty almost forgot her fears. I read on. ‘He ought to have his book knocked out of his hand,’ exclaimed a pursy cit, whose arms were too fast pinioned to his side to suffer him to execute his kind intention. Still I read on — and, till the time came to pay my money, kept as unmoved, as Saint Antony at his Holy Offices, with the satyrs, apes, and hobgoblins, mopping, and making mouths at him, in the picture, while the good man sits undisturbed at the sight, as if he were sole tenant of the desart. — The individual rabble (I recognised more than one of their ugly faces) had damned a slight piece of mine but a few nights before, and I was determined the culprits should not a second time put me out of countenance.”

Master Betty was William Henry West Betty (1791–1874), known as the “Young Roscius,” whose Hamlet and Douglas sent playgoers wild in 1804–5-6. Pitt, indeed, once adjourned the House in order that his Hamlet might be witnessed. His most cried-up scenes in “Hamlet” were the “To be or not to be” soliloquy, and the fencing scene before the king and his mother. The piece of Lamb’s own which had been hissed was, of course, “Mr. H.,” produced on December 10, 1806; but very likely he added this reference as a symmetrical afterthought, for he would probably have visited Master Betty much earlier in his career, that phenomenon’s first appearance at Covent Garden being two years before the advent of the ill-fated Hogsflesh.

Page 200, line 22. Martin B——. Martin Charles Burney, son of Admiral Burney, and a lifelong friend of the Lambs — to whom Lamb dedicated the prose part of his Works in 1818 (see Vol. IV.).

Page 200, line 28. A quaint poetess. Mary Lamb. The poem is in Poetry for Children, 1809 (see Vol. III. of this edition). In line 17 the word “then” has been inserted by Lamb. The punctuation also differs from that of the Poetry for Children.


London Magazine, July, 1823. This, like others of Lamb’s essays, was translated into French and published in the Revue Britannique in 1833. It was prefaced by the remark: “L’auteur de cette délicieuse esquisse est Charles Lamb, connu sous le nom d’Eliah.”

Page 201, beginning. I have said so before. See “Oxford in the Vacation.”

Page 201, line 5 of essay. My beloved Thames. Lamb describes a riparian holiday at and about Richmond in a letter to Robert Lloyd in 1804.

Page 201, line 8 of essay. Worthing . . . There is no record of the Lambs’ sojourn at Worthing or Eastbourne. They were at Brighton in 1817, and Mary Lamb at any rate enjoyed walking on the Downs there; in a letter to Miss Wordsworth of November 21, 1817, she described them as little mountains, almost as good as Westmoreland scenery. They were at Hastings — at 13 Standgate Street — in 1823 (see Lamb’s letters to Bernard Barton, July 10, 1823, to Hood, August 10, 1824, and to Dibdin, June, 1826). The only evidence that we have of Lamb knowing Worthing is his “Mr. H.”. That play turns upon the name Hogsflesh, afterwards changed to Bacon. The two chief innkeepers at Worthing at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of its prosperity were named Hogsflesh and Bacon, and there was a rhyme concerning them which was well known (see notes to “Mr. H.” in Vol. IV.).

Page 201, line 11 of essay. Many years ago. A little later Lamb says he was then fifteen. This would make the year 1790. It was probably on this visit to Margate that Lamb conceived the idea of his sonnet, “O, I could laugh,” which Coleridge admired so much (see Vol. IV.).

Page 201, line 17 of essay. Thou old Margate Hoy. This old sailing-boat gave way to a steam-boat, the Thames, some time after 1815. The Thames, launched in 1815, was the first true steam-boat the river had seen. The old hoy, or lighter, was probably sloop rigged.

Page 202, foot. Our enemies. Lamb refers here to the attacks of Blackwood’s Magazine on the Cockneys, among whom he himself had been included. In the London Magazine he had written “unfledged” for “unseasoned.”

Page 206, line 14. Gebir. Gebir, by Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864), who was a fortnight older than Lamb, and who afterwards came to know him personally, was published in 1798.

Page 206, line 16. This detestable Cinque Port. A letter from Mary Lamb to Randal Norris, concerning this, or another, visit to Hastings, says: “We eat turbot, and we drink smuggled Hollands, and we walk up hill and down hill all day long.” Lamb, in a letter to Barton, admitted a benefit: “I abused Hastings, but learned its value.”

Page 208, line 5. Lothbury. Probably in recollection of Wordsworth’s “Reverie of Poor Susan,” which Lamb greatly liked.


London Magazine, July, 1825.

We learn from the Letters that Lamb had a severe nervous breakdown in the early summer of 1825 after liberation from the India House. Indeed, his health was never sound for long together after he became a free man.


New Monthly Magazine, May, 1826, where it appeared as one of the Popular Fallacies under the title, “That great Wit is allied to Madness;” beginning: “So far from this being true, the greatest wits will ever be found to be the sanest writers . . . ” and so forth. Compare the essay “On the Tragedies of Shakespeare,” Vol. I. Lamb’s thesis is borrowed from Dryden’s couplet (in Absalom and Achitophel, Part I., lines 163, 164):—

Great wits are sure to madness near allied,

And thin partitions do their bounds divide.

Page 213, line 14. Kent . . . Flavius. Lamb was always greatly impressed by the character of Kent (see his essay on “Hogarth,” Vol. I.; his “Table Talk,” Vol. I.; and his versions, in the Tales from Shakespear, of “King Lear” and “Timon,” Vol. III.).


London Magazine, November, 1824.

No one has yet been able to identify Captain Jackson. The suggestion has been made that Randal Norris sat for the picture; but the circumstance that Lamb, in the first edition of the Last Essays, included “A Death–Bed,” with a differing portrait of Randal Norris therein, is, I think, good evidence against this theory. Perhaps the captain was one of the imaginary characters which Lamb sent out every now and then, as he told Bernard Barton (in the letter of March 20, 1826), “to exercise the ingenuity of his friends;” although his reality seems overpowering.

Apart from his own interest, the captain is noteworthy in constituting, with Ralph Bigod (see page 27), a sketch (possibly unknown to Dickens) for Wilkins Micawber.

Page 217, line 22. Glover . . . Leonidas. Richard Glover (1712–1785), the poet, author of Leonidas, 1737. I cannot find that he ever lived at Westbourne Green.

Page 218, foot. The old ballad. The old ballad “Waly, Waly.” This was among the poems copied by Lamb into Miss Isola’s Extract Book.

Page 219, line 8. Tibbs, and Bobadil. Beau Tibbs in Goldsmith’s “Citizen of the World,” and Bobadil in Ben Jonson’s “Every Man in His Humour.”


London Magazine, May, 1825.

Except that Lamb has disguised his real employment, this essay is practically a record of fact. After thirty-three years of service at the East India House he went home “for ever” on Tuesday, March 29, 1825, with a pension of £441, or two-thirds of his regular salary, less a small annual deduction as a provision for his sister. At a Court of Directors held on that day this minute was drawn up: “Resolved that the resignation of Mr. Charles Lamb, of the Accountant General’s office, on account of certified ill health, be accepted, and it appearing that he has served the Company faithfully for 33 years, and is now in receipt of an income of £730 per annum, he be allowed a pension of £450 . . . to commence from this day.” Lamb’s letters to Wordsworth, April 6, 1825, to Barton, the same date, and to Miss Hutchinson, a little later, all tell the story. This is how Lamb put it to Barton:—

“DEAR B.B. — My spirits are so tumultuary with the novelty of my recent emancipation, that I have scarce steadiness of hand, much more mind, to compose a letter.

“I am free, B.B. — free as air.

“The little bird that wings the sky

Knows no such Liberty!

“I was set free on Tuesday in last week at 4 o’clock.

“I came home for ever! . . .

“I went and sat among ’em all at my old 33 years desk yester morning; and deuce take me if I had not yearnings at leaving all my old pen-and-ink fellows, merry sociable lads, at leaving them in the Lurch, fag, fag, fag.

“I would not serve another 7 years for seven hundred thousand pound.”

To Miss Hutchinson Lamb said; “I would not go back to my prison for seven years longer for £10000 a year.”

In the London Magazine the essay was divided into two parts, with the two quotations now at the head apportioned each to one part. Part II. began at “A fortnight has passed,” on page 224. The essay was signed “J.D.,” whose address was given as “Beaufort-terrace, Regent-street; late of Ironmonger-court, Fenchurch-street.”

Page 220, line 3. Recreation. At “recreation,” in the London Magazine, came the footnote:—

“Our ancestors, the noble old Puritans of Cromwell’s day, could distinguish between a day of religious rest and a day of recreation; and while they exacted a rigorous abstinence from all amusements (even to the walking out of nursery maids with their little charges in the fields) upon the Sabbath; in the lieu of the superstitious observance of the Saints days, which they abrogated, they humanely gave to the apprentices, and poorer sort of people, every alternate Thursday for a day of entire sport and recreation. A strain of piety and policy to be commended above the profane mockery of the Stuarts and their Book of Sports.”

Lamb had said the same thing to Barton in a letter in the spring, 1824, referring there to “Southey’s book” as his authority — this being The Book of the Church, 1824.

Page 220, line 25. Native . . . Hertfordshire. This was a slight exaggeration. Lamb was London born and bred. But Hertfordshire was his mother and grandmother’s county, and all his love of the open air was centred there (see the essay on “Mackery End”).

Page 221, line 1. My health. Lamb had really been seriously unwell for some time, as the Letters tell us.

Page 221, line 6. I was fifty. Lamb was fifty on February 10, 1825.

Page 231, line 7. I had grown to my desk. In his first letter to Barton (September 11, 1822) Lamb wrote: “I am like you a prisoner to the desk. I have been chained to that galley thirty years, a long shot. I have almost grown to the wood.” Again, to Wordsworth: “I sit like Philomel all day (but not singing) with my breast against this thorn of a Desk.”

Page 222, line 7. Boldero, Merryweather . . . Feigned names of course. It was Boldero that Lamb once pretended was Leigh Hunt’s true name. And in his fictitious biography of Liston (Vol. I.) Liston’s mother was said to have been a Miss Merryweather. In Lamb’s early city days there was a banking firm in Cornhill, called Boldero, Adey, Lushington & Boldero.

Page 222, line 12 from foot. I could walk it away. Writing to Wordsworth in March, 1822, concerning the possibility of being pensioned off, Lamb had said:—“I had thought in a green old age (O green thought!) to have retired to Ponder’s End — emblematic name — how beautiful! in the Ware road, there to have made up my accounts with heaven and the Company, toddling about between it and Cheshunt, anon stretching on some fine Izaac Walton morning, to Hoddsdon or Amwell, careless as a Beggar, but walking walking ever till I fairly walkd myself off my legs, dying walking.”

And again, writing to Southey after the emancipation, he says (August, 1825): “Mary walks her twelve miles a day some days, and I twenty on others. ’Tis all holiday with me now, you know.”

Page 224, line 9. Ch ——. John Chambers, son of the Rev. Thomas Chambers, Vicar of Radway–Edgehill, Warwickshire, and an old Christ’s Hospitaller, to whom Lamb wrote the famous letter on India House society, printed in the Letters, Canon Ainger’s edition, under December, 1818. John Chambers lived until 1872, and had many stories of Lamb.

Page 224, line 9. Do ——. Probably Henry Dodwell, to whom Lamb wrote the letters of July, 1816, from Calne, and that of October 7, 1827, thanking him for a gift of a sucking pig. But there seems (see the letter to Chambers above referred to) to have been also a clerk named Dowley. It was Dodwell who annoyed Lamb by reading The Times till twelve o’clock every morning.

Page 224, line 10. Pl ——. According to the late H.G. Bohn’s notes on Chambers’ letter, this was W.D. Plumley.

Page 224, line 18. My “works.” See note to the preface to the Last Essays of Elia. The old India House ledgers of Lamb’s day are no longer in existence, but a copy of Booth’s Tables of Interest is preserved, with some mock notices from the press on the fly-leaves in Lamb’s hand. Lamb’s portrait by Meyer was bought for the India Office in 1902.

Page 224, line 12 from foot. My own master. As a matter of fact Lamb found the time rather heavy on his hands now and then; and he took to searching for beauties in the Garrick plays in the British Museum as a refuge. The Elgin marbles were moved there in 1816.

Page 225, line 16 from foot. And what is it all for? At these words, in the London Magazine, came the passage:—

“I recite those verses of Cowley, which so mightily agree with my constitution.

“Business! the frivolous pretence

Of human lusts to shake off innocence:

Business! the grave impertinence:

Business! the thing which I of all things hate:

Business! the contradiction of my fate.

“Or I repeat my own lines, written in my Clerk state:—

“Who first invented work — and bound the free

And holyday-rejoicing spirit down

To the ever-haunting importunity

Of business, in the green fields, and the town —

To plough, loom, anvil, spade — and oh! most sad,

To this dry drudgery of the desk’s dead wood?

Who but the Being unblest, alien from good,

Sabbathless Satan! he who his unglad

Task ever plies ‘mid rotatory burnings,

That round and round incalculably reel —

For wrath divine hath made him like a wheel —

In that red realm from whence are no returnings;

Where toiling, and turmoiling, ever and aye

He, and his thoughts, keep pensive worky-day!

“O this divine Leisure! — Reader, if thou art furnished with the Old Series of the London, turn incontinently to the third volume (page 367), and you will see my present condition there touched in a ‘Wish’ by a daintier pen than I can pretend to. I subscribe to that Sonnet toto corde.”

The sonnet referred to, beginning —

They talk of time and of time’s galling yoke,

will be found quoted above, in the notes to “New Year’s Eve.” It was, of course, by Lamb himself. To the other sonnet he gave the title “Work” (see Vol. IV.). Cowley’s lines are from “The Complaint.”

Page 225, line 14 from foot. NOTHING-TO-DO. Lamb wrote to Barton in 1827: “Positively, the best thing a man can have to do, is nothing, and next to that perhaps — good works.”


New Monthly Magazine, March, 1826, where it was one of the Popular Fallacies, under the title, “That my Lord Shaftesbury and Sir William Temple are models of the Genteel Style in Writing. — We should prefer saying — of the Lordly and the Gentlemanly. Nothing,” &c.

Page 226, beginning. My Lord Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713), the grandson of the great statesman, and the author of the Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions and Times, 1711, and other less known works. In the essay “Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading” Lamb says, “Shaftesbury is not too genteel for me.”

Page 226, beginning. Sir William Temple. Sir William Temple (1628–1699), diplomatist and man of letters, the patron of Swift, and the husband of the letter-writing Dorothy Osborne. His first diplomatic mission was in 1665, to Christopher Bernard von Glialen, the prince-bishop of Munster, who grew the northern cherries (see page 228). Afterwards he was accredited to Brussels and the Hague, and subsequently became English Ambassador at the Hague. He was recalled in 1670, and spent the time between then and 1674, when he returned, in adding to his garden at Sheen, near Richmond, and in literary pursuits. He reentered active political life in 1674, but retired again in 1680, and moved to an estate near Farnham; which he named Moor Park, laid out in the Dutch style, and made famous for its wall fruit. Hither Swift came, as amanuensis, in 1689, and he was there, with intervals of absence, in 1699, when Temple died, “and with him,” Swift wrote in his Diary, “all that was good and amiable among men.” He was buried in Westminster Abbey, but his heart, by his special wish, was placed in a silver casket under the sun-dial at Moor Park, near his favourite window seat.

Temple’s essays, under the title of Miscellanea, were published in 1680 and 1692; his works, in several volumes, between 1700 and 1709. The best-known essay is that on “Ancient and Modern Learning,” but Lamb refers also to those “On Health and Long Life,” “Of the Cure of the Gout,” “Of Gardening.” The quotation on page 228 does not exactly end Temple’s garden essay, as Lamb says. Lamb has slightly altered Temple’s punctuation.

Page 230. BARBARA S——.

London Magazine, April, 1825.

This little story exhibits, perhaps better than anything that Lamb wrote, his curious gift of blending fact and fancy, of building upon a foundation of reality a structure of whimsicality and invention. In the late Charles Kent’s edition of Lamb’s works is printed a letter from Miss Kelly, the actress, and a friend of the Lambs, in which the true story is told; for it was she, as indeed Lamb admitted to Wordsworth in a letter in 1825, who told him the incident —“beautifully,” he says elsewhere.

Miss Kelly wrote, in 1875:—

I perfectly remember relating an incident of my childhood to Charles Lamb and his dear sister, and I have not the least doubt that the intense interest he seemed to take in the recital, induced him to adopt it as the principal feature in his beautiful story of “Barbara S——.” Much, however, as I venerate the wonderful powers of Charles Lamb as a writer — grateful as I ever must feel to have enjoyed for so many years the friendship of himself and his dear sister, and proudly honoured as I am by the two exquisite sonnets he has given to the world as tributary to my humble talent, I have never been able thoroughly to appreciate the extraordinary skill with which he has, in the construction of his story, desired and contrived so to mystify and characterize the events, as to keep me out of sight, and render it utterly impossible for any one to guess at me as the original heroine. . . .

In the year 1799, Miss Jackson, one of my mother’s daughters, by her first husband, was placed under the special care of dear old Tate Wilkinson, proprietor of the York Theatre, there to practice, as in due progression, what she had learned of Dramatic Art, while a Chorus Singer at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, coming back, as she did after a few years, as the wife of the late celebrated, inimitable Charles Mathews, to the Haymarket Theatre. In 1799, through the influence of my uncle, Michael Kelly, the celebrated singer and composer of that day, I was allowed to become a miniature chorister in her place. . . .

One Saturday, during the limited season of nine months in the year, Mr. Peake (dear, good old gentleman!) looking, as I remember he always did — anxiously perplexed — doubtless as to how he could best dole out the too frequently insufficient amount provided for the ill-paid company, silently looked me in the face, while he carefully folded a very dirty, ragged bank note — put it into my hand, patted my cheek, and with a slight pressure on my shoulder, hinting there was no time for our usual gossip — as good as said, “go, my dear,” and I hurried down the long gallery, lined down each side with performers of all degrees, more than one of whom whispered as I passed —“Is it full pay, dear?” I nodded “Yes,” and proceeded to my seat on the window of the landing-place.

It was a great comfort in those days, to have a bank-note to look at; but not always easy to open one. Mine had been cut and repaired with a line of gum paper, about twenty times as thick as the note itself, threatening the total destruction of the thin part.

Now observe in what small matters Fanny and Barbara were in a marked degree different characters. Barbara, at 11 years of age, was some time before she felt the different size of a guinea to a half guinea, held tight in her hand. I, at nine years old, was not so untaught, or innocent. I was a woman of the world. I took nothing for granted. I had a deep respect for Mr. Peake, but the join might have disfigured the note — destroyed its currency; and it was my business to see all safe. So, I carefully opened it. A two pound-note instead of one! The blood rushed into my face, the tears into my eyes, and for a moment, something like an ecstasy of joy passed through my mind. “Oh! what a blessing to my dear mother!”—“To whom?”— in an instant said my violently beating heart — “My mother?” Why she would spurn me for the wish. How shall I ever own to her my guilty thought? I trembled violently — I staggered back on my way to the Treasury, but no one would let me pass, until I said, “But Mr. Peake has given me too much.” “Too much, has he?” said one, and was followed by a coarse, cold, derisive, general laugh. Oh! how it went to my heart; but on I went.

“If you please, Mr. Peake, you have given me a two —”

“A what?”

“A two, Sir!”

“A two! — God bless my soul! — tut-tut-tut-tut — dear, dear, dear! — God bless my soul! There, dear,” and without another word, he, in exchange, laid a one pound note on the desk; a new one, quite clean — a bright, honest looking note — mine, the one I had a right to — my own — within the limit of my poor deservings.

Thus, my dear sir, I give (as you say you wish to have the facts as accurately stated as possible) the simple, absolute truth.

As a matter of fact Miss Kelly did afterwards play in Morton’s “Children in the Wood,” to Lamb’s great satisfaction. The incident of the roast fowl is in that play.

In Vol. I. will be found more than one eulogy of Miss Kelly’s acting.

Page 231, last line. Real hot tears. In Crabb Robinson’s diary Miss Kelly relates that when, as Constance, in “King John,” Mrs. Siddons (not Mrs. Porter) wept over her, her collar was wet with Mrs. Siddons’ tears. Miss Kelly, of course, was playing Arthur.

Page 232, line 7. Impediment . . . pulpit. This is more true than the casual reader may suppose. Had Lamb not had an impediment in his speech, he would have become, at Christ’s Hospital, a Grecian, and have gone to one of the universities; and the ordinary fate of a Grecian was to take orders.

Page 232, line 13. Mr. Liston. Mrs. Cowden Clarke says that Liston the comedian and his wife were among the visitors to the Lambs’ rooms at Great Russell Street.

Page 232, line 14. Mrs. Charles Kemble, née Maria Theresa De Camp, mother of Fanny Kemble.

Page 232, line 16. Macready. The only record of any conference between Macready and Lamb is Macready’s remark in his Diary that he met Lamb at Talfourd’s, and Lamb said that he wished to draw his last breath through a pipe, and exhale it in a pun. But this was long after the present essay was written.

Page 232, line 17. Picture Gallery . . . Mr. Matthews. See note below.

Page 232, line 26. Not Diamond’s. Dimond was the proprietor of the old Bath Theatre.

Page 235, first line. Mrs. Crawford. Anne Crawford (1734–1801), née Street, who was born at Bath, married successively a Mr. Dancer, Spranger Barry the actor, and a Mr. Crawford. Her great part was Lady Randolph in Home’s “Douglas.”


London Magazine, October, 1823, where, with slight differences, it formed the concluding portion of the “Letter of Elia to Robert Southey, Esquire,” which will be found in Vol. I. The notes in that volume should be consulted; but a little may be said here. This, the less personal portion of the “Letter to Southey,” seems to have been all that Lamb cared to retain. He admitted afterwards, when his anger against Southey had cooled, that his “guardian angel” had been “absent” at the time he wrote it.

The Dean of Westminster at the time was Ireland, the friend of Gifford — dean from 1815 to 1842. Lamb’s protest against the two-shilling fee was supported a year or so later than its first appearance by Reynolds, in Odes and Addresses, 1825, in a sarcastic appeal to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster to reduce that sum. The passage in Lamb’s essay being reprinted in 1833, suggests that the reform still tarried. The evidence, however, of J.T. Smith, in his Book for a Rainy Day, is that it was possible in 1822 to enter Poets’ Corner for sixpence. Dean Stanley, in his Historical Memorials of Westminster Abbey, writes: “Free admission was given to the larger part of the Abbey under Dean Ireland. Authorised guides were first appointed in 1826, and the nave and transepts opened, and the fees lowered in 1841. . . . ”

Lamb’s reference to Southey and to André‘s monument is characteristically mischievous. He is reminding Southey of his early sympathy with rebels — his “Wat Tyler” and pantisocratic days. Major John André, Sir Henry Clinton’s adjutant-general, was caught returning from an interview with an American traitor — a perfectly honourable proceeding in warfare — and was hanged by Washington as a spy in 1780. No blame attached either to judge or victim. André‘s remains were reburied in the Abbey in 1821. Lamb speaks of injury to André‘s figure in the monument, but the usual thing was for the figure of Washington to be attacked. Its head has had to be renewed more than once. Minor thefts have also been committed. According to Mrs. Gordon’s Life of Dean Buckland, one piece of vandalism at any rate was the work of an American, who returned to the dean two heads which he had appropriated as relics.

In The Examiner for April 8, 1821, is quoted from The Traveller the following epigram, which may not improbably be Lamb’s, and which shows at any rate that his protest against entrance fees for churches was in the air.


What can be hop’d from Priests who, ‘gainst the Poor,

For lack of two-pence, shut the church’s door;

Who, true successors of the ancient leaven,

Erect a turnpike on the road to Heaven?

“Knock, and it shall be open’d,” saith our LORD;

“Knock, and pay two-pence,” say the Chapter Board:

The Showman of the booth the fee receives,

And God’s house is again a “den of thieves.”


London Magazine, December, 1823.

A preliminary sketch of the first portion of this essay will be found in the letter from Lamb to Sarah Hazlitt, written probably in November, 1823. In Barry Cornwall’s Memoir of Lamb, Chapter VI., there is also an account of the accident to Dyer — Procter (Barry Cornwall) having chanced to visit the Lambs just after the event. For an account of George Dyer see notes to the essay on “Oxford in the Vacation”. In 1823 he was sixty-eight; later he became quite blind.

We have another glimpse of G.D. on that fatal day, in the reminiscences of Mr. Ogilvie, an India House clerk with Lamb, as communicated to the Rev. Joseph H. Twichell (see Scribner’s Magazine, March, 1876):—

At the time George Dyer was fished out of New River in front of Lamb’s house at Islington, after he was resuscitated, Mary brought him a suit of Charles’s clothes to put on while his own were drying. Inasmuch as he was a giant of a man, and Lamb undersized; inasmuch, moreover, as Lamb’s wardrobe afforded only knee breeches for the nether limbs (Dyer’s were colossal), the spectacle he presented when the clothes were on — or as much on as they could be-was vastly ludicrous.

Allsop, in a letter to Mr. Percy Fitzgerald, remarked, of Dyer’s immersion, that Lamb had said to him: “If he had been drowned it would have made me famous. Think of having a Crowner’s quest, and all the questions and dark suspicions of murder. People would haunt the spot and say, ‘Here died the poet of Grongar Hill.’” The poet of “Grongar Hill” was, of course, John Dyer — another of Lamb’s instances of the ambiguities arising from proper names.

Page 238, line 19. The rescue. At these words, in the London Magazine, Lamb put this footnote:—

“The topography of my cottage, and its relation to the river, will explain this; as I have been at some cost to have the whole engraved (in time, I hope, for our next number), as well for the satisfaction of the reader, as to commemorate so signal a deliverance.”

The cottage at Colebrooke Row, it should be said, stands to this day (1911); but the New River has been covered in. There is, however, no difficulty in reproducing the situation. One descends from the front door by a curved flight of steps, a little path from which, parallel with the New River, takes one out into Colebrooke Row (or rather Duncan Terrace, as this part of the Row is now called). Under the front door-steps is another door from which Dyer may possibly have emerged; if so it would be the simplest thing for him to walk straight ahead, and find himself in the river.

Page 240, line 22. That Abyssinian traveller. James Bruce (1730–1794), the explorer of the sources of the Nile, was famous many years before his Travels appeared, in 1790, the year after which Lamb left school. The New River, made in 1609–1613, has its source in the Chadwell and Amwell springs. It was peculiarly Lamb’s river: Amwell is close to Blakesware and Widford; Lamb explored it as a boy; at Islington he lived opposite it, and rescued George Dyer from its depths; and he retained its company both at Enfield and Edmonton.

In the essay on “Newspapers” is a passage very similar to this.

Page 240, line 32. Eternal novity. Writing to Hood in 1824 Lamb speaks of the New River as “rather elderly by this time.” Dyer, it should be remembered, was of Emmanuel College, and the historian of Cambridge University.

Page 241, last paragraph. George Dyer contributed “all that was original” to Valpy’s edition of the classics — 141 volumes. He also wrote the History of The University and Colleges of Cambridge, including notices relating to the Founders and Eminent Men. Among the eminent men of Cambridge are Jeremiah Markland (1693–1776), of Christ’s Hospital and St. Peter’s, the classical commentator; and Thomas Gray, the poet, the sweet lyrist of Peterhouse, who died in 1771, when Dyer was sixteen. Tyrwhitt would probably be Thomas Tyrwhitt (1730–1786), of Queen’s College, Oxford, the editor of Chaucer; but Robert Tyrwhitt (1735–1817), his brother, the Unitarian, might be expected to take interest in Dyer also, for G.D. was, in Lamb’s phrase, a “One–Goddite” too. The mild Askew was Anthony Askew (1722–1772), doctor and classical scholar, who, being physician to Christ’s Hospital when Dyer was there, lent the boy books, and was very kind to him.


London Magazine, September, 1823, where it was entitled “Nugæ Criticæ. By the Author of Elia. No. 1. Defence of the Sonnets of Sir Philip Sidney.” Signed “L.” The second and last of the “Nugæ Criticæ” series was the note on “The Tempest” (see Vol. I.).

It may be interesting here to relate that Henry Francis Gary, the translator of Dante, and Lamb’s friend, had, says his son in his memoir, lent Lamb Edward Phillips’s Theatrum Poetarum Anglicanorum, which was returned after Lamb’s death by Edward Moxon, with the leaf folded down at the account of Sir Philip Sidney. Mr. Gary thereupon wrote his “Lines to the memory of Charles Lamb,” which begin:—

So should it be, my gentle friend;

Thy leaf last closed at Sidney’s end.

Thou, too, like Sidney, wouldst have given

The water, thirsting and near heaven.

Lamb has some interesting references to Sidney in the note to Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Maid’s Tragedy” in the Dramatic Specimens.

Page 243, line 5. Tibullus, or the . . . Author of the Schoolmistress. In the London Magazine Lamb wrote “Catullus.” Tibullus was one of the tenderest of Latin poets. William Shenstone (1714–1763) wrote “The Schoolmistress,” a favourite poem with Lamb. The “prettiest of poems” he called it in a letter to John Clare.

Page 243, line 9. Ad Leonoram. The following translation of Milton’s sonnet was made by Leigh Hunt:—


To every one (so have ye faith) is given

A winged guardian from the ranks of heaven.

A greater, Leonora, visits thee:

Thy voice proclaims the present deity.

Either the present deity we hear,

Or he of the third heaven hath left his sphere,

And through the bosom’s pure and warbling wells,

Breathes tenderly his smoothed oracles;

Breathes tenderly, and so with easy rounds

Teaches our mortal hearts to bear immortal sounds.

If God is all, and in all nature dwells,

In thee alone he speaks, mute ruler in all else.

The Latin in Masson’s edition of Milton differs here and there from Lamb’s version.

Page 243. Sonnet I. Lamb cites the sonnets from Astrophel and Stella, in his own order. That which he calls I. is XXXI.; II., XXXIX.; III., XXIII.; IV., XXVII.; V., XLI.; VI., LIII.; VII., LXIV.; VIII., LXXIII.; IX., LXXIV.; X., LXXV.; XI., CIII.; XII., LXXXIV. I have left the sonnets as Lamb copied them, but there are certain differences noted in my large edition.

Page 247, middle. Which I have . . . heard objected. A criticism of Hazlitt’s, in his sixth lecture on Elizabethan literature, delivered in 1820 at the Surrey Institution, is here criticised. Hazlitt’s remarks on Sidney were uniformly slighting. “His sonnets inlaid in the Arcadia are jejune, far-fetch’d and frigid. . . . [The Arcadia] is to me one of the greatest monuments of the abuse of intellectual power upon record. . . . [Sidney is] a complete intellectual coxcomb, or nearly so;” and so forth. The lectures were published in 1821. Elsewhere, however, Hazlitt found in Sidney much to praise.

Page 248, line 3. Thin diet of dainty words. To this sentence, in the London Magazine, Lamb put the following footnote:—

“A profusion of verbal dainties, with a disproportionate lack of matter and circumstance, is I think one reason of the coldness with which the public has received the poetry of a nobleman now living; which, upon the score of exquisite diction alone, is entitled to something better than neglect. I will venture to copy one of his Sonnets in this place, which for quiet sweetness, and unaffected morality, has scarcely its parallel in our language.

“To a Bird that Haunted the Waters of Lacken in the Winter
“by Lord Thurlow

“O melancholy Bird, a winter’s day,

Thou standest by the margin of the pool,

And, taught by God, dost thy whole being school

To Patience, which all evil can allay.

God has appointed thee the Fish thy prey;

And given thyself a lesson to the Fool

Unthrifty, to submit to moral rule,

And his unthinking course by thee to weigh.

There need not schools, nor the Professor’s chair,

Though these be good, true wisdom to impart.

He who has not enough, for these, to spare

Of time, or gold, may yet amend his heart,

And teach his soul, by brooks, and rivers fair:

Nature is always wise in every part.”

This sonnet, by Edward Hovell–Thurlow, second Baron Thurlow (1781–1829), an intense devotee of Sir Philip Sidney’s muse, was a special favourite with Lamb. He copied it into his Commonplace Book, and De Quincey has described, in his “London Reminiscences,” how Lamb used to read it aloud.

Page 248, line 27. Epitaph made on him. After these words, in the London Magazine, came “by Lord Brooke.” Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, wrote Sidney’s Life, published in 1652. After Sidney’s death appeared many elegies upon him, eight of which were printed at the end of Spenser’s Colin Clout’s Come Home Again, in 1595. That which Lamb quotes is by Matthew Roydon, Stanzas 15 to 18 and 26 and 27. The poem beginning “Silence augmenteth grief” is attributed to Brooke, chiefly on Lamb’s authority, in Ward’s English Poets. This is one stanza:—

He was (woe worth that word!) to each well-thinking mind

A spotless friend, a matchless man, whose virtue ever shined,

Declaring in his thoughts, his life and that he writ,

Highest conceits, longest foresights, and deepest works of wit.

Sidney was only thirty-two at his death.


Englishman’s Magazine, October, 1831, being the second paper under the heading “Peter’s Net,” of which “Recollections of a Late Royal Academician” was the first (see note, Vol. I.).

The title ran thus:—



No. II. — On the Total Defect of the faculty of Imagination observable in the works of modern British Artists.

For explanation of this title see note to the essay that follows. When reprinting the essay in the Last Essays of Elia, 1833, Lamb altered the title to the one it now bears: the period referred to thus seeming to be about 1798, but really 1801–1803.

Page 249, first line of essay. Dan Stuart. See below.

Page 249, line 2 of essay. The Exhibition at Somerset House. Between the years 1780 and 1838 the Royal Academy held its exhibitions at Somerset House. It then moved, first to Trafalgar Square, in a portion of the National Gallery, and then to Burlington House, its present quarters, in 1869. The Morning Post office is still almost opposite Somerset House, at the corner of Wellington Street.

Page 250, line 5. A word or two of D.S. Daniel Stuart (1766–1846), one of the Perthshire Stuarts, whose father was out in the ‘45, and his grandfather in the ‘15, began, with his brother, to print the Morning Post in 1788. In 1795 they bought it for £600, Daniel assumed the editorship, and in two years’ time the circulation had risen from 350 to 1,000. Mackintosh (afterwards Sir James), Stuart’s brother-inlaw, was on the staff; and in 1797 Coleridge began to contribute. Coleridge’s “Devil’s Walk” was the most popular thing printed in Stuart’s time; his political articles also helped enormously to give the paper prestige. Stuart sold the Morning Post in 1803 for £25,000, and then turned his attention to the development of The Courier, an evening paper, in which he also had occasional assistance from Coleridge and more regular help from Mackintosh.

Lamb’s memory served him badly in the essay. So far as I can discover, his connection with the Morning Post, instead of ending when Stuart sold the paper, can hardly be said to have existed until after that event. The paper changed hands in September, 1803 (two years after the failure of The Albion), and Lamb’s hand almost immediately begins to be apparent. He had, we know, made earlier efforts to get a footing there, but had been only moderately successful. The first specimens prepared for Stuart, in 1800, were not accepted. In the late summer of 1801 he was writing for the Morning Chronicle— a few comic letters, as I imagine — under James Perry; but that lasted only a short time. At the end of 1801 Lamb tried the Post again. In January and February, 1802, Stuart printed some epigrams by him on public characters, two criticisms of G.F. Cooke, in Richard III. and Lear, and the essay “The Londoner” (see Vol. I.). Probably there were also some paragraphs. In a letter to Rickman in January, 1802, Lamb says that he is leaving the Post, partly on account of his difficulty in writing dramatic criticisms on the same night as the performance.

We know nothing of Lamb’s journalistic adventures between February, 1802, and October, 1803, when the fashion of pink stockings came in, and when he was certainly back on the Post (Stuart having sold it to establish The Courier), and had become more of a journalist than he had ever been. I quote a number of the paragraphs which I take to be his on this rich topic; but the specimen given in the essay is not discoverable:—

Oct. 8. — The fugitive and mercurial matter, of which a Lady’s blush is made, after coursing from its natural position, the cheek, to the tip of the elbow, and thence diverging for a time to the knee, has finally settled in the legs, where, in the form of a pair of red hose, it combines with the posture and situation of the times, to put on a most warlike and martial appearance.”

Nov. 2. — Bartram, who, as a traveller, was possessed of a very lively fancy, describes vast plains in the interior of America, where his horse’s fetlocks for miles were dyed a perfect blood colour, in the juice of the wild strawberries. A less ardent fancy than BARTRAM’S may apply this beautiful phenomenon of summer, to solve the present strawberry appearance of the female leg this autumn in England.”

Nov. 3. — The roseate tint, so agreeably diffused through the silk stockings of our females, induces the belief that the dye is cast for their lovers.”

Nov. 8. — A popular superstition in the North of Germany is said to be the true original of the well-known sign of Mother REDCAP. Who knows but that late posterity, when, what is regarded by us now as fashion, shall have long been classed among the superstitious observances of an age gone by, may dignify their signs with the antiquated personification of a Mother RED LEGS?”

Nov. 9. — Curiosity is on tip-toe for the arrival of ELPHY BEY’S fair Circassian Ladies. The attraction of their naturally-placed, fine, proverbial bloom, is only wanting to reduce the wandering colour in the ‘elbows’ and ‘ancles’ of our belles, back to its native metropolis and palace, the ‘cheek.’”

Nov. 22. —Pink stockings beneath dark pelices are emblems of Sincerity and Discretion; signifying a warm heart beneath a cool exterior.”

Nov. 29. — The decline of red stockings is as fatal to the wits, as the going out of a fashion to an overstocked jeweller: some of these gentry have literally for some months past fed on roses.”

Dec. 21. — The fashion of red stockings, so much cried down, dispraised, and followed, is on the eve of departing, to be consigned to the family tomb of ‘all the fashions,’ where sleep in peace the ruffs and hoops, and fardingales of past centuries; and

“All its beauty, all its pomp, decays

Like Courts removing, or like ending plays.”

On February 7, 1804, was printed Lamb’s “Epitaph on a young Lady who Lived Neglected and Died Obscure” (see Vol. IV.), and now and then we find a paragraph likely to be his; but, as we know from a letter from Mary Lamb to Sarah Stoddart, he had left the Post in the early spring, 1804. I think this was the end of his journalism, until he began to write a little for The Examiner in 1812.

In 1838 Stuart was drawn into a correspondence with Henry Coleridge in the Gentleman’s Magazine (May, June, July and August) concerning some statements about Coleridge’s connection with the Morning Post and The Courier which were made in Gillman’s Life, Stuart, in the course of straightening out his relations with Coleridge, referred thus to Lamb:—

But as for good Charles Lamb, I never could make anything out of his writings. Coleridge often and repeatedly pressed me to settle him on a salary, and often and repeatedly did I try; but it would not do. Of politics he knew nothing; they were out of his line of reading and thought; and his drollery was vapid, when given in short paragraphs fit for a newspaper; yet he has produced some agreeable books, possessing a tone of humour and kind feeling, in a quaint style, which it is amusing to read, and cheering to remember.

For further remarks concerning Lamb’s journalism see below when we come to The Albion and his connection with it.

Page 250, line 6. Perry, of the Morning Chronicle. James Perry (1756–1821) the editor of the Morning Chronicle— the leading Whig paper, for many years — from about 1789. Perry was a noted talker and the friend of many brilliant men, among them Porson. Southey’s letters inform us that Lamb was contributing to the Chronicle in the summer of 1801, and I fancy I see his hand now and then; but his identifiable contributions to the paper came much later than the period under notice. Coleridge contributed to it a series of sonnets to eminent persons in 1794, in one of which, addressed to Mrs. Siddons, he collaborated with Lamb (see Vol. IV.).

Page 250, line 14. The Abyssinian Pilgrim. For notes to this passage about the New River see the essay “Amicus Redivivus.”

Page 250, foot. In those days . . . This paragraph began, in the Englishman’s Magazine, with the following sentence:—

“We ourself — PETER— in whose inevitable NET already Managers and R.A.s lie caught and floundering — and more peradventure shall flounder — were, in the humble times to which we have been recurring, small Fishermen indeed, essaying upon minnows; angling for quirks, not men.”

The phrase “Managers and R.A.s” refers to the papers on Elliston and George Dawe which had preceded this essay, although the Elliston essay had not been ranged under the heading “Peter’s Net.” The George Dawe paper is in Vol. I. of this edition.

Page 252, line 25. Basilian water-sponges. The Basilian order of monks were pledged to austerity; but probably Lamb intended merely a joke upon his friend Basil Montagu’s teetotalism (see note in Vol. I. to “Confessions of a Drunkard,” a paper quoted in Montagu’s Some Enquiries into the Effects of Fermented Liquors). In John Forster’s copy of the Last Essays of Elia, in the South Kensington Museum, a legacy from Elia, there is written “Basil Montagu!” against this passage. Moreover the context runs, “we were right toping Capulets”— as opposed to the (Basil) Montagus.

Page 253, line 23. Bob Allen. See the essay on “Christ’s Hospital” and note.

Page 253, line 24. The “Oracle.“ This daily paper was started in the 1780’s by Peter Stuart, Daniel Stuart’s brother, as a rival to The World (see below).

Page 253, line 31. Mr. Deputy Humphreys. I am disappointed to have been able to find nothing more about this Common Council butt.

Page 254, lines 11 and 12. The “True Briton,” the “Star,” the “Traveller.” The True Briton, a government organ in the 1790’s, which afterwards assimilated Cobbett’s Porcupine. The Star was founded by Peter Stuart, Daniel Stuart’s brother, in 1788. It was the first London evening paper to appear regularly. The Traveller, founded about 1803, still flourishes under the better-known title of The Globe.

Page 254, lines 24–26. Este . . . Topham . . . Boaden. Edward Topham (1751–1820), author of the Life of John Elwes, the miser, founded The World, a daily paper, in 1787. Parson Este, the Rev. Charles Este, was one of his helpers. James Boaden (1762–1839), dramatist, biographer and journalist, and editor of The Oracle for some years, wrote the Life of Mrs. Siddons, 1827.

Page 254, foot. The Albion. Lamb’s memory of his connection with The Albion was at fault. His statement is that he joined it on the sale of the Morning Post by Stuart, which occurred in 1803; but as a matter of fact his association with it was in 1801. This we know from his letters to Manning in August of that year, quoting the epigram on Mackintosh (see below) and announcing the paper’s death. Mackintosh, says Lamb, was on the eve of departing to India to reap the fruits of his apostasy — referring to his acceptance of the post of Recordership of Bombay offered to him by Addington. But this was a slip of memory. Mackintosh’s name had been mentioned in connection with at least two posts before this — a judgeship in Trinidad and the office of Advocate–General in Bengal, and Lamb’s epigram may have had reference to one or the other. In the absence of a file of The Albion, which I have been unable to find, it is impossible to give exact dates or to reproduce any of Lamb’s other contributions.

Page 255, line 6. John Fenwick. See the essay “The Two Races of Men,” and note. Writing to Manning on September 24, 1802, Lamb describes Fenwick as a ruined man hiding from his creditors. In January, 1806, he tells Stoddart that Fenwick is “coming to town on Monday (if no kind angel intervene) to surrender himself to prison.” And we meet him again as late as 1817, in a letter to Barron Field, on August 31, where his editorship of The Statesman is mentioned. In Mary Lamb’s letters to Sarah Stoddart there are indications that Mrs. Fenwick and family were mindful of the Lambs’ charitable impulses.

After “Fenwick,” in the Englishman’s Magazine, Lamb wrote: “Of him, under favour of the public, something may be told hereafter.” It is sad that the sudden discontinuance of the magazine with this number for ever deprived us of further news of this man.

Page 255, line 11. Lovell. Daniel Lovell, subsequently owner and editor of The Statesman, which was founded by John Hunt, Leigh Hunt’s brother, in 1806. He had a stormy career, much chequered by imprisonment and other punishment for freedom of speech. He died in 1818.

Page 255, line 20. Daily demands of the Stamp Office. The newspaper stamp in those days was threepence-halfpenny, raised in 1815 to fourpence. In 1836 it was reduced to a penny, and in 1855 abolished.

Page 255, line 28. Accounted very good men now. A hit, I imagine, particularly at Southey (see note to “The Tombs in the Abbey”). Also at Wordsworth and Mackintosh himself.

Page 256, line 3. Sir J——s M——h. Sir James Mackintosh (1765–1832), the philosopher, whose apostasy consisted in his public recantation of the opinions in favour of the French Revolution expressed in his Vindiciæ Gallicæ, published in 1791. In 1803 he accepted the offer of the Recordership of Bombay. Lamb’s epigram, which, as has been stated above, cannot have had reference to this particular appointment, runs thus in the version quoted in the letter to Manning of August, 1801:—

Though thou’rt like Judas, an apostate black,

In the resemblance one thing thou dost lack:

When he had gotten his ill-purchased pelf,

He went away, and wisely hang’d himself:

This thou may’st do at last; yet much I doubt,

If thou hash any bowels to gush out.

Page 256, line 6. Lord . . . Stanhope. This was Charles, third earl (1753–1816), whose sympathies were with the French Revolution. His motion in the House of Lords against interfering with France’s internal affairs was supported by himself alone, which led to a medal being struck in his honour with the motto, “The Minority of One, 1795;” and he was thenceforward named “Minority,” or “Citizen,” Stanhope. George Dyer, who had acted as tutor to his children, was one of Stanhope’s residuary legatees.

Page 256, line 10. It was about this time . . . With this sentence Lamb brought back his essay to its original title, and paved the way for the second part — now printed under that heading.

At the end of this paper, in the Englishman’s Magazine, were the words, “To be continued.” For the further history of the essay see the notes that follow.


Athenæum, January 12, 19, 26, and February 2, 1833, where it was thus entitled: “On the Total Defects of the Quality of Imagination, observable in the Works of Modern British Artists.” By the Author of the Essays signed “Elia.”

The following editorial note was prefixed to the first instalment:—“This Series of Papers was intended for a new periodical, which has been suddenly discontinued. The distinguished writer having kindly offered them to the ATHENÆUM, we think it advisable to perfect the Series by this reprint; and, from the limited sale of the work in which it originally appeared, it is not likely to have been read by one in a thousand of our subscribers.”

The explanation of this passage has been made simple by the researches of the late Mr. Dykes Campbell. Lamb intended the essay originally for the Englishman’s Magazine, November number, to follow the excursus on newspapers. But that magazine came to an end with the October number. In the letter from Lamb to Moxon dated October 24, 1831, Lamb says, referring to Moxon’s announcement that the periodical would cease:—“Will it please, or plague, you, to say that when your Parcel came I damned it, for my pen was warming in my hand at a ludicrous description of a Landscape of an R.A., which I calculated upon sending you to morrow, the last day you gave me.”

That was the present essay. Subsequently — at the end of 1832 — Moxon started a weekly paper entitled The Reflector, edited by John Forster, in which the printing of Lamb’s essay was begun. It lasted only a short time, and on its cessation Lamb sent the ill-fated manuscript to The Athenæum, where it at last saw publication completed. Of The Reflector all trace seems to have vanished, and with it possibly other writings of Lamb’s.

In The Athenæum of December 22, 1832, the current Reflector (No. 2) is advertised as containing “An Essay on Painters and Painting by Elia.”

Page 256, line 1 of essay. Hogarth. Compare Lamb’s criticism of Hogarth, Vol. I.

Page 256, foot. Titian’s “Ariadne.“ This picture is now No. 35 in the National Gallery. Writing to Wordsworth in May, 1833, it is amusing to note, Lamb says: “Inter nos the Ariadne is not a darling with me, several incongruous things are in it, but in the composition it served me as illustrative.” The legend of Ariadne tells that after being abandoned by Theseus, whom she loved with intense passion, she was wooed by Bacchus.

Page 258, line 2. Somerset House. See note above to the essay on “Newspapers.”

Page 258, line 14. Neoteric . . . Mr. ——. Probably J.M.W. Turner and his “Garden of the Hesperides,” now in the National Gallery. It is true it was painted in 1806, but Lamb does not describe it as a picture of the year and Turner was certainly the most notable neoteric, or innovator, of that time.

Page 259, line 1. Of a modern artist. In The Athenæum this had been printed “of M— — ” meaning John Martin (1789–1854). His “Belshazzar’s Feast,” which Lamb analyses below, was painted in 1821, and made him famous. It was awarded a £200 premium, and was copied on glass and exhibited with great success as an illuminated transparency in the Strand. Lord Lytton said of Martin that “he was more original, more self-dependent, than Raphael or Michael Angelo.” Lamb had previously expressed his opinion of Martin, in a letter to Bernard Barton, dated June 11, 1827, in a passage which contains the germ of this essay:—“Martin’s Belshazzar (the picture) I have seen. Its architectural effect is stupendous; but the human figures, the squalling, contorted little antics that are playing at being frightened, like children at a sham ghost who half know it to be a mask, are detestable. Then the letters are nothing more than a transparency lighted up, such as a Lord might order to be lit up on a sudden at a Christmas Gambol, to scare the ladies. The type is as plain as Baskervil — they should have been dim, full of mystery, letters to the mind rather than the eye.”

Page 259, line 13. The late King. George IV., who built, when Prince of Wales, the Brighton Pavilion. As I cannot find this incident in any memoirs of the Regency, I assume Lamb to have invented it, after his wont, when in need of a good parallel. “Mrs. Fitz-what’s-her-name” stands of course for Mrs. Fitzherbert.

Page 259, line 33. The ingenious Mr. Farley. Charles Farley (1771–1859), who controlled the pantomimes at Covent Garden from 1806 to 1834, and invented a number of mechanical devices for them. He also acted, and had been the instructor of the great Grimaldi. Lamb alludes to him in the essay on “The Acting of Munden.”

Page 262, line 10. “Sun, stand thou still . . . ” See Joshua x. 12. Martin’s picture of “Joshua commanding the Sun to stand still” was painted in 1816. Writing to Barton, in the letter quoted from above, Lamb says: “Just such a confus’d piece is his Joshua, fritter’d into 1000 fragments, little armies here, little armies there — you should see only the Sun and Joshua . . . for Joshua, I was ten minutes finding him out.”

Page 262, line 29. The great picture at Angerstein’s. This picture is “The Resurrection of Lazarus,” by Fra Sebastiano del Piombo, with the assistance, it is conjectured, of Michael Angelo. The picture is now No. 1 in the National Gallery, the nucleus of which collection was once the property of John Julius Angerstein (1735–1823). Angerstein’s art treasures were to be seen until his death in his house in Pall Mall, where the Reform Club now stands.

Page 263, line 35. The Frenchmen, of whom Coleridge’s friend. See the Biographia Literaria, 1847 ed., Vol. II., pp. 126–127.

Page 265, line 5. “Truly, fairest Lady . . . ” The passage quoted by Lamb is from Skeltoa’s translation of Don Quixote, Part II., Chapter LVIII. The first sentence runs: “Truly, fairest Lady, Actæon was not more astonished or in suspense when on the sodaine he saw Diana,” and so forth.

Page 266, line 9. “Guzman de Alfarache.” The Picaresque romance by Mateo Aleman —Vida y Lechos del picaro Guzman de Alfarache, Part I., 1599; Part II., 1605. It was translated into English by James Mabbe in 1622 as The Rogue; or, The Life of Guzman de Alfarache. Lamb had a copy, which is now in my possession, with Mary Lamb’s name in it.


London Magazine, January, 1823.

This paper, being printed in the same number as that which announced Elia’s death, was signed “Elia’s Ghost.”

Lamb returned to this vein of fancy two years or so later when (in 1825) he contributed to his friend William Hone’s Every–Day Book the petition of the Twenty–Ninth of February, a day of which Hone had taken no account, and of the Twelfth of August, which from being kept as the birthday of King George IV. during the time that he was Prince of Wales, was, on his accession to the throne, disregarded in favour of April 23, St. George’s Day. For these letters see Vol. I. of this edition.

Page 271, line 15. “On the bat’s back . . . ” From Ariel’s song in “The Tempest.” Lamb confesses, in at least two of his letters, to a precisely similar plight.

Page 271. THE WEDDING.

London Magazine, June, 1825.

The wedding was that of Sarah Burney, daughter of Lamb’s old friends, Rear–Admiral James Burney and his wife Sarah Burney, to her cousin, John Payne, of Pall Mall, at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, in April, 1821. The clergyman was the Rev. C.P. Burney, who was not, however, vicar of St. Mildred’s in the Poultry, but of St. Paul’s, Deptford, in Kent. Admiral Burney lived only six months longer, dying in November.

Canon Ainger pointed out that when Lamb was revising this essay for its appearance in the Last Essays of Elia, he was, like the admiral, about to lose by marriage Emma Isola, who was to him and his sister what Miss Burney had been to her parents. She married Edward Moxon in July, 1833.

Page 274, line 8. An unseasonable disposition to levity. Writing to P.G. Patmore in 1827 Lamb says: “I have been to a funeral, where I made a pun, to the consternation of the rest of the mourners.” Again, writing to Southey: “I am going to stand godfather; I don’t like the business; I cannot muster up decorum for these occasions; I shall certainly disgrace the font; I was at Hazlitt’s marriage and was like to have been turned out several times during the ceremony. Anything awful makes me laugh. I misbehaved once at a funeral.”

Page 274, line 24. Miss T——s. In the London Magazine “Miss Turner’s.”

Page 274, line 27. Black . . . the costume of an author. See note below.

Page 274, line 29. Lighter colour. Here the London Magazine had: “a pea-green coat, for instance, like the bridegroom.”

Page 274, line 34. A lucky apologue. I do not find this fable; but Lamb’s father, in his volume of poems, described in a note on page 381, has something in the same manner in his ballad “The Sparrow’s Wedding”:—

The chatt’ring Magpye undertook

Their wedding breakfast for to cook,

He being properly bedight

In a cook’s cloathing, black and white.

Page 275, foot. The Admiral’s favourite game. Admiral Burney wrote a treatise on whist (see notes to “Mrs. Battle’s Opinions on Whist”).


London Magazine, June, 1823.

Thomas Moore’s Loves of the Angels was published in 1823. Lamb used it twice for his own literary purposes: on the present occasion, with tenderness, and again, eight years later, with some ridicule, for his comic ballad, “Satan in Search of a Wife,” 1831, was ironically dedicated to the admirers of Moore’s poem (see Vol. IV.).

Page 279. A DEATH-BED.

Hone’s Table Book

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