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   Chapter 11 CHARLES LAMB

Famous American Belles of the Nineteenth Century By Virginia Tatnall Peacock Characters: 36563

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

At one of those free-and-easy sociable gatherings in Lamb's rooms, in the Temple, which Hazlitt has so happily immortalised, Lamb provoked some discussion by asking which of all the English literary men of the past one would most wish to have seen and known. Ayrton, who was of the company, said he would choose the two greatest names in English literature-Sir Isaac Newton and John Locke. "Every one burst out laughing," writes Hazlitt, "at the expression of Lamb's face, in which impatience was restrained by courtesy. 'Yes, the greatest names,' he stammered out hastily, 'but they were not persons-not persons.... There is nothing personally interesting in the men.'" It is Lamb's glory that he is both a great name and a great and interesting personality; and if his question were put again to-day in any company of book-lovers I should not be alone in saying at once that the writer of the past I would soonest have seen and known is Charles Lamb.

It is difficult to write of him without letting your enthusiasm run away with you. Except for a few reviewers of his own day (and the reviewers of one's own day count for little or nothing the day after), nobody who knew Lamb in his life or has come to know him through his books and the books that tell of him has been able to write of him except with warmest admiration and affection. Even so testy and difficult a man as Landor, who only saw Lamb once, could not touch on his memory without profound emotion, and says in some memorial verses:-

"Of all that ever wore man's form, 'tis thee

I first would spring to at the gates of heaven."

And you remember Wordsworth's-

"O, he was good, if e'er a good man lived!"

There is, too, that well-known anecdote of how Thackeray lifted a volume of Elia and held it against his forehead and murmured "St. Charles!" All which, and many other utterances of love and reverence for his personal character, particularly Wordsworth's reference to him as "Lamb, the frolic and the gentle," would have exasperated Lamb himself and moved him to angry protest. "I have had the Anthology," he wrote to Coleridge in 1800, "and like only one thing in it, 'Lewti'; but of that the last stanza is detestable, the rest most exquisite: the epithet 'enviable' would dash the finest poem. For God's sake (I never was more serious) don't make me ridiculous any more by terming me gentle-hearted in print, or do it in better verses. It did well enough five years ago when I came to see you, and was moral coxcomb enough at the time you wrote the lines to feed upon such epithets; but besides that the meaning of 'gentle' is equivocal at best, and almost always means poor-spirited, the very quality of gentleness is abhorrent to such vile trumpetings. My sentiment has long since vanished. I hope my virtues have done sucking. I can scarce think but you meant it in joke. I hope you did, for I should be ashamed to believe that you could think to gratify me by such praise, fit only to be a cordial to some green-sick sonneteer." The epithet so rankled in his recollection that a week later he returned to the topic. "In the next edition of the Anthology (which Ph?bus avert, and those nine other wandering maids also!) please to blot out 'gentle-hearted,' and substitute 'drunken dog, ragged head, seld-shaven, odd-eyed, stuttering,' or any other epithet which truly and properly belongs to the gentleman in question. And for Charles read Tom, or Bob, or Richard for mere delicacy."

Gentle Lamb certainly was, but the word is not large enough or robustly human enough to cover all his character. He wins your regard by his faults as well as by his virtues. If he drank a little too much at times, and sometimes talked and wrote foolishly and too flippantly to please the serious-minded, he far more often talked and wrote wisely, wittily, exquisitely, and for thirty-eight years of his life he readily sacrificed himself to his sister's well-being, giving up all thought of marriage that he might be her constant guardian and attendant, watching dreadfully for signs of her recurring fits of insanity, and when they were coming upon her going with her to the melancholy gate of the asylum, and directly her mind was cleared, returning eagerly to fetch her home again.

He was never in the habit of laying himself out to create a good impression on strangers; if they were unsympathetic, or he did not take to them, in his freakish fashion he would deliberately say and do things to shock and antagonise them, and so it came about that those who did not know him or could not appreciate him frequently set him down as "something between an imbecile, a brute, and a buffoon." Carlyle formed that sort of impression of him; and one can believe there was scarcely any point of contact between Carlyle's sombre, deadly earnest, man-with-a-message outlook and the tricksy, elvish, quaintly humorous spirit of Lamb, who wrote with a delicate fancy and tenderness that are more lasting than Carlyle's solid preachings are likely to prove, and who "stuttered his quaintness in snatches," says Haydon, "like the fool in Lear, and with equal beauty."

That is a fine and wonderful glimpse of one side of Lamb given by Leigh Hunt when he says he could have imagined him "cracking a joke in the teeth of a ghost, and then melting into thin air himself out of sympathy with the awful." In describing him, most of his friends emphasise "the bland, sweet smile, with a touch of sadness in it." "A light frame, so fragile that it seemed as if a breath would overthrow it," is Talfourd's picture of him, "clad in clerk-like black, and surmounted by a head of form and expression the most noble and sweet. His black hair curled crisply about an expanded forehead; his eyes, softly brown, twinkled with varying expression, though the prevalent feeling was sad; and the nose slightly curved, and delicately carved at the nostril, with the lower outline of the face regularly oval, completed a head which was finely placed on the shoulders, and gave importance and even dignity to a diminutive and shadowy stem. Who shall describe his countenance, catch its quivering sweetness, and fix it for ever in words? There are none, alas, to answer the vain desire of friendship. Deep thought, striving with humour; the lines of suffering wreathed into cordial mirth; and a smile of painful sweetness, present an image to the mind it can as little describe as lose. His personal appearance and manner are not unfitly characterised by what he himself says in one of his letters to Manning of Braham-'a compound of the Jew, the gentleman, and the angel.'" Add to this the sketch that Patmore has left of him: "In point of intellectual character and expression, a finer face was never seen, nor one more fully, however vaguely, corresponding with the mind whose features it interpreted. There was the gravity usually engendered by a life passed in book-learning, without the slightest tinge of that assumption and affectation which almost always attend the gravity so engendered; the intensity and elevation of general expression that mark high genius, without any of its pretension and its oddity; the sadness waiting on fruitless thoughts and baffled aspirations, but no evidence of that spirit of scorning and contempt which these are apt to engender. Above all, there was a pervading sweetness and gentleness which went straight to the heart of every one who looked on it; and not the less so, perhaps, that it bore about it an air, a something, seeming to tell that it was not put on-for nothing could be more unjust than to tax Lamb with assuming anything, even a virtue, which he did not possess-but preserved and persevered in, spite of opposing and contradictory feelings within that struggled in vain for mastery. It was a thing to remind you of that painful smile which bodily disease and agony will sometimes put on, to conceal their sufferings from the observation of those they love."

It was a look-this look of patient endurance, of smiling resignation, of painful cheerfulness-that you could not understand unless you were aware of the appalling tragedy that lay in the background of his life, and of the haunting dread, the anxious, daily anticipation of disaster, and the need of concealing this anxiety from her, that were involved in the matter-of-course self-sacrifice with which he devoted himself to the care and guardianship of his sister, Mary.

It was in 1796, when Lamb was living with his father and mother and sister in lodgings in Little Queen Street, that the tragedy happened which was to overshadow all his after years. The father was drifting into second childhood, the mother an invalid. Mary Lamb had to attend upon them both, with the help of a small servant and, in addition, took in plain sewing; Charles was a junior clerk at the India House. Only a little while before Lamb had himself suffered a mental breakdown and had been placed under temporary restraint ("the six weeks that finished last year," he writes to Coleridge, in May 1796, "your very humble servant spent very agreeably in a madhouse, at Hoxton. I am got somewhat rational now, and don't bite any one. But mad I was"); then, in September 1796, his sister suddenly went out of her mind, stabbed her mother to the heart, and in her frenzy threw knives at others in the room, and wounded her father before Lamb could seize her and get her under control. There are no letters more terrible or more pathetic than those he wrote to Coleridge, when the horror and heartbreak of this event was fresh upon him.

"My dearest Friend," he writes on the 27th September 1796, "White, or some of my friends, or the public papers, by this time have informed you of the terrible calamities that have fallen on our family. I will only give you the outlines. My poor dear, dearest sister, in a fit of insanity, has been the death of her own mother. I was at hand only time enough to snatch the knife out of her grasp. She is at present in a madhouse, from whence I fear she must be moved to an hospital. God has preserved to me my senses: I eat, and drink, and sleep, and have my judgment, I believe, very sound. My poor father was slightly wounded, and I am left to take care of him and my aunt. Mr. Norris, of the Bluecoat School, has been very kind to us, and we have no other friend; but thank God I am very calm and composed, and able to do the best that remains to do. Write as religious a letter as possible, but no mention of what is gone and done with. With me 'the former things are passed away,' and I have something more to do than to feel. God Almighty have us all in His keeping!

"C. Lamb.

"Mention nothing of poetry. I have destroyed every vestige of past vanities of that kind. Do as you please, but if you publish, publish mine (I give free leave) without name or initial, and never send me a book, I charge you.

"Your own judgment will convince you not to take any notice of this yet to your dear wife. You look after your family; I have my reason and strength left to take care of mine. I charge you, don't think of coming to see me. Write. I will not see you if you come. God Almighty love you and all of us!

"C. Lamb."

The book he mentions is one that he and Coleridge and Lloyd were arranging to publish together. In October there is another letter, replying to one from Coleridge, and saying his sister is restored to her senses-a long letter from which I shall quote only one or two memorable passages: "God be praised, Coleridge! wonderful as it is to tell, I have never once been otherwise than collected and calm; even on that dreadful day, and in the midst of the terrible scene, I preserved a tranquillity which bystanders may have construed into indifference-a tranquillity not of despair. Is it folly or sin in me to say that it was a religious principle that most supported me? I allow much to other favourable circumstances. I felt that I had something else to do than to regret. On that first evening my aunt was lying insensible-to all appearance like one dying; my father, with his poor forehead plaistered over from a wound he had received from a daughter, dearly loved by him, and who loved him no less dearly; my mother a dead and murdered corpse in the next room; yet was I wonderfully supported. I closed not my eyes in sleep that night, but lay without terrors and without despair. I have lost no sleep since.... One little incident may serve to make you understand my way of managing my mind. Within a day or two after the fatal one, we dressed for dinner a tongue, which we had had salted for some weeks in the house. As I sat down, a feeling like remorse struck me: this tongue poor Mary got for me; and can I partake of it now, when she is far away? A thought occurred and relieved me: if I give in to this way of feeling, there is not a chair, a room, an object in our rooms, that will not awaken the keenest griefs. I must rise above such weaknesses. I hope this was not want of true feeling. I did not let this carry me, though, too far. On the very second day (I date from the day of horrors), as is usual in such cases, there were a matter of twenty people, I do think, supping in our room: they prevailed on me to eat with them (for to eat I never refused). They were all making merry in the room! Some had come from friendship, some from busy curiosity, and some from interest. I was going to partake with them, when my recollection came that my poor dead mother was lying in the next room-the very next room-a mother who, through life, wished nothing but her children's welfare. Indignation, the rage of grief, something like remorse, rushed upon my mind. In an agony of emotion I found my way mechanically to the adjoining room, and fell on my knees by the side of her coffin, asking forgiveness of Heaven, and sometimes of her, for forgetting her so soon. Tranquillity returned, and it was the only violent emotion that mastered me. I think it did me good."

Through all his subsequent letters from time to time there are touching little references to his sister's illnesses: she is away, again and again, in the asylum, or in charge of nurses, and he is alone and miserable, but looking forward to her recovering presently and returning home. Once when they are away from London on a visit, she is suddenly taken with one of these frenzies, and on the way back to town he has to borrow a waistcoat to restrain her violence in the coach. But his love and loyalty were proof against it all; nothing would induce him to separate from her or let her go out of his charge, except during those intervals when she was so deranged as to be a danger to others and to herself.

About the end of 1799 Lamb moved into the Temple and, first at Mitre Court Buildings, then in Middle Temple Lane, he resided there, near the house of his birth, for some seventeen years in all. In these two places he and his sister kept open house every Wednesday evening, and Hazlitt and Talfourd, Barry Cornwall, Holcroft, Godwin, and, when they were in town, Wordsworth and Coleridge were among their guests. Hazlitt and Talfourd and others have told us something of those joyous evenings in the small, dingy rooms, comfortable with books and old prints, where cold beef and porter stood ready on the sideboard for the visitors to help themselves, and whilst whoever chose sat and played at whist the rest fleeted the golden hours in jest and conversation.


Towards the end of 1817 the Lambs took lodgings at 20 Russell Street, Covent Garden, a house which was formerly part of Will's famous Coffee House, which Dryden used to frequent, having his summer seat by the fireside and his winter seat in the balcony, as chief of the wits and men of letters who made it their place of resort. In a letter to Dorothy Wordsworth, Mary Lamb reports their change of address: "We have left the Temple. I think you will be sorry to hear this. I know I have never been so well satisfied with thinking of you at Rydal Mount as when I could connect the idea of you with your own Grasmere Cottage. Our rooms were dirty and out of repair, and the inconvenience of living in chambers became every year more irksome, and so, at last, we mustered up resolution enough to leave the good old place that so long had sheltered us, and here we are living at a brazier's shop, No. 20 Russell Street, Covent Garden, a place all alive with noise and bustle; Drury Lane Theatre in sight from our front, and Covent Garden from our back windows. The hubbub of the carriages returning from the play does not annoy me in the least; strange that it does not, for it is quite tremendous. I quite enjoy looking out of the window, and listening to the calling up of the carriages, and the squabbles of the coachmen and linkboys. It is the oddest scene to look down upon; I am sure you would be amused with it. It is well I am in a cheerful place, or I should have many misgivings about leaving the Temple." And on the 21st November 1817, Lamb also writes to Dorothy Wordsworth: "Here we are, transplanted from our native soil. I thought we never could be torn up from the Temple. Indeed it was an ugly wrench, but like a tooth, now 'tis out, and I am easy. We never can strike root so deep in any other ground. This, where we are, is a light bit of gardener's mould, and if they take us up from it, it will cost no blood and groans, like mandrakes pulled up. We are in the individual spot I like best in all this great city. The theatres, with all their noises. Covent Garden, dearer to me than any gardens of Alcinous, where we are morally sure of the earliest peas and 'sparagus. Bow Street, where the thieves are examined, within a few yards of us. Mary had not been here four-and-twenty hours before she saw a thief. She sits at the window working; and casually throwing out her eyes, she sees a concourse of people coming this way, with a constable to conduct the solemnity. These little incidents agreeably diversify a female life."

During his residence in Russell Street, from 1817 till 1823, Lamb published in two volumes a collection of his miscellaneous writings, and contributed the Essays of Elia to the London Magazine, which makes this Russell Street

house, in a sense, the most notable of his various London homes. Here he continued his social gatherings, but had no regular evening for them, sending forth announcements periodically, such as that he sent to Ayrton in 1823: "Cards and cold mutton in Russell Street on Friday at 8 & 9. Gin and jokes from ? past that time to 12. Pass this on to Mr. Payne, and apprize Martin thereof"-Martin being Martin Burney.


By the autumn of this year he has flitted from Covent Garden, and on the 2nd September writes to Bernard Barton: "When you come London-ward you will find me no longer in Covent Garden. I have a cottage in Colebrooke Row, Islington. A cottage, for it is detached; a white house, with six good rooms, the New River (rather elderly by this time) runs (if a moderate walking pace can be so termed) close to the foot of the house; and behind is a spacious garden, with vines (I assure you), pears, strawberries, parsnips, leeks, carrots, cabbages, to delight the heart of old Alcinous. You enter without passage into a cheerful dining-room, all studded over and rough with old books, and above is a lightsome drawing-room, three windows, full of choice prints. I feel like a great lord, never having had a house before"; and writing at the end of that week to invite Allsop to dinner on Sunday he supplies him with these directions: "Colebrook Cottage, left hand side, end of Colebrook Row, on the western brink of the New River, a detached whitish house." To Barton, when he has been nearly three weeks at Islington, he says, "I continue to estimate my own roof-comforts highly. How could I remain all my life a lodger! My garden thrives (I am told), though I have yet reaped nothing but some tiny salad and withered carrots. But a garden's a garden anywhere, and twice a garden in London."

Here, in November of that year, happened the accident to George Dyer that supplied Lamb with the subject of his whimsical Elian essay, Amicus Redivivus. Dyer was an odd, eccentric, very absent-minded old bookworm who lived in Clifford's Inn; Lamb delighted in his absurdities, and loved him, and loved to make merry over his quaint sayings and doings. "You have seen our house," he writes to Mrs. Hazlitt, in the week after Dyer's adventure. "What I now tell you is literally true. Yesterday week George Dyer called upon us at one o'clock (bright noonday) on his way to dine with Mrs. Barbauld at Newington. He sat with Mary about half-an-hour, and took leave. The maid saw him go out, from her kitchen window, but suddenly losing sight of him, ran up in a fright to Mary. G. D., instead of keeping the slip that leads to the gate, had deliberately, staff in hand, in broad open day, marched into the New River. He had not his spectacles on, and you know his absence. Who helped him out they can hardly tell, but between 'em they got him out, drenched through and through. A mob collected by that time, and accompanied him in. 'Send for the Doctor,' they said: and a one-eyed fellow, dirty and drunk, was fetched from the public-house at the end, where it seems he lurks for the sake of picking up water practice; having formerly had a medal from the Humane Society for some rescue. By his advice the patient was put between blankets; and when I came home at four to dinner, I found G. D. abed and raving, light-headed with the brandy and water which the doctor had administered. He sang, laughed, whimpered, screamed, babbled of guardian angels, would get up and go home; but we kept him there by force; and by next morning he departed sober, and seems to have received no injury."

Before he left Islington the India Company bestowed upon Lamb the pension that at last emancipated him from his "dry drudgery at the desk's dead wood," and he communicates the great news exultantly to Wordsworth in a letter dated "Colebrook Cottage," 6th April 1825: "Here I am, then, after thirty-three years' slavery, sitting in my own room at eleven o'clock this finest of all April mornings, a freed man, with £441 a year for the remainder of my life, live I as long as John Dennis, who outlived his annuity and starved at ninety: £441, i.e. £450, with a deduction of £9 for a provision secured to my sister, she being survivor, the pension guaranteed by Act Georgii Tertii, &c. I came home FOR EVER on Tuesday in last week. The incomprehensibleness of my condition overwhelmed me. It was like passing from life into eternity. Every year to be as long as three, i.e. to have three times as much real time (time that is my own) in it! I wandered about thinking I was happy, but feeling I was not. But the tumultuousness is passing off, and I begin to understand the nature of the gift. Holydays, even the annual month, were always uneasy joys; their conscious fugitiveness; the craving after making the most of them. Now, when all is holyday, there are no holydays. I can sit at home in rain or shine without a restless impulse for walkings. I am daily steadying, and shall soon find it as natural to me to be my own master as it has been irksome to have had a master. Mary wakes every morning with an obscure feeling that some good has happened to us."

He made use of these experiences in one of the best of his essays, that on The Superannuated Man, in which also you find echoes of a letter he wrote to Bernard Barton just after he had written to Wordsworth:

"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 four o'clock.

'I came home for ever!'

"I have been describing my feelings as well as I can to Wordsworth in a long letter and don't care to repeat. Take it briefly that for a few days I was painfully oppressed by so mighty a change, but it is becoming daily more natural to me. I went and sat among 'em all at my old thirty-three 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! The comparison of my own superior felicity gave me anything but pleasure. B. B. I would not serve another seven years for seven hundred thousand pounds."

From Islington Lamb journeyed over to Highgate every now and then to visit Coleridge at Mr. Gilman's; and a-visiting him at Colebrooke Cottage came Coleridge, Southey, William Hone, and among many another, Hood, to whom he took an especial liking. Coleridge thought he was the author of certain Odes that were then appearing in the London Magazine, but writing in reply Lamb assured him he was mistaken: "The Odes are four-fifths done by Hood, a silentish young man you met at Islington one day, an invalid. The rest are Reynolds's, whose sister H. has recently married."

During the two years or more after his release from the India House, Lamb and his sister spent two or three short holidays lodging with a Mrs. Leishman at The Chase, Enfield; in 1827 they rented the house of her, and Lamb wrote from that address on the 18th September to Hood, who was then living at 2 Robert Street, Adelphi: "Give our kind loves to all at Highgate, and tell them we have finally torn ourselves outright away from Colebrooke, where I had no health, and are about to domicilate for good at Enfield, where I have experienced good.

'Lord, what good hours do we keep!

How quietly we sleep!'...

We have got our books into our new house. I am a dray-horse if I was not ashamed of the undigested dirty lumber, as I toppled 'em out of the cart, and blest Becky that came with 'em for her having an unstuffed brain with such rubbish.... 'Twas with some pain we were evulsed from Colebrook. You may find some of our flesh sticking to the doorposts. To change habitations is to die to them; and in my time I have died seven deaths. But I don't know whether every such change does not bring with it a rejuvenescence. 'Tis an enterprise; and shoves back the sense of death's approximating which, though not terrible to me, is at all times particularly distasteful. My house-deaths have generally been periodical, recurring after seven years; but this last is premature by half that time. Cut off in the flower of Colebrook!" He mentions that the rent is 10s. less than he paid at Islington; that he pays, in fact, £35 a year, exclusive of moderate taxes, and thinks himself lucky.

But the worry of moving brought on one of Mary Lamb's "sad, long illnesses"; and whilst she was absent, Lamb fled from the loneliness of his country home to spend ten days in town. "But Town," he writes to Barton, "with all my native hankering after it, is not what it was. The streets, the shops are left, but all old friends are gone. And in London I was frightfully convinced of this as I past houses and places-empty caskets now. I have ceased to care almost about anybody. The bodies I cared for are in graves or dispersed. My old Clubs, that lived so long and flourished so steadily, are crumbled away. When I took leave of our adopted young friend at Charing Cross, 'twas heavy unfeeling rain and I had nowhere to go. Home have I none-and not a sympathising house to turn to in the great city. Never did the waters of the heaven pour down on a forlorner head. Yet I tried ten days at a sort of friend's house, but it was large and straggling-one of the individuals of my long knot of friends, card-players, pleasant companions-that have tumbled to pieces into dust and other things-and I got home on Thursday convinced that I was better to get home to my hole at Enfield, and hide like a sick cat in my corner. Less than a month, I hope, will bring home Mary. She is at Fulham, looking better in her health than ever, but sadly rambling, and scarce showing any pleasure in seeing me, or curiosity when I should come again. But the old feelings will come back again, and we shall drown old sorrows over a game of Picquet again. But 'tis a tedious cut out of a life of sixty-four, to lose twelve or thirteen weeks every year or two."


The cares of housekeeping, however, sat too heavily on them, and in October 1829 they abandoned those responsibilities, gave up their cottage on Chase Side, and went to lodge and board with their next-door neighbours, an old Mr. and Mrs. Westwood, and in this easier way of living their spirits and their health revived. Nevertheless, by January 1830 Lamb had lost all his contentment with rural life, and was yearning desperately for the remembered joys of London. "And is it a year since we parted from you at the steps of Edmonton stage?" he writes to Wordsworth. "There are not now the years that there used to be." He frets, he says, like a lion in a net, and then goes on to utter that yearning to be back in London that I have quoted already in my opening chapter. "Back-looking ambition," he continues, "tells me I might still be a Londoner! Well, if we ever do move, we have incumbrances the less to impede us; all our furniture has faded under the auctioneer's hammer, going for nothing, like the tarnished frippery of the prodigal, and we have only a spoon or two left to bless us. Clothed we came into Enfield, and naked we must go out of it. I would live in London shirtless, bookless." And to Bernard Barton he says, "With fire and candle-light I can dream myself in Holborn.... Give me old London at Fire and Plague times, rather than these tepid gales, healthy country air, and purposeless exercise."

Early in 1833 he removed from Enfield, and his reasons for doing so he explains in a letter to Mrs. Hazlitt, on the 31st May of that year: "I am driven from house to house by Mary's illness. I took a sudden resolution to take my sister to Edmonton, where she was under medical treatment last time, and have arranged to board and lodge with the people. Thank God I have repudiated Enfield. I have got out of hell, despair of heaven, and must sit down contented in a half-way purgatory. Thus ends this strange eventful history. But I am nearer to town, and will get up to you somehow before long." About the same date he wrote to Wordsworth: "Mary is ill again. Her illnesses encroach yearly. The last was three months, followed by two of depression most dreadful. I look back upon her earlier attacks with longing-nice little durations of six weeks or so, followed by complete restoration-shocking as they were to me then. In short, half her life she is dead to me, and the other half is made anxious with fears and lookings forward to the next shock. With such prospects it seemed to me necessary that she should no longer live with me, and be fluttered with continual removals; so I am come to live with her, at a Mr. Walden's, and his wife, who take in patients, and have arranged to lodge and board us only. They have had the care of her before. I see little of her: alas! I too often hear her. Sunt lachrym? rerum! and you and I must bear it.... I am about to lose my old and only walk-companion, whose mirthful spirits were the 'youth of our house,' Emma Isola. I have her here now for a little while, but she is too nervous properly to be under such a roof, so she will make short visits-be no more an inmate. With my perfect approval and more than concurrence she is to be wedded to Moxon at the end of August-so 'perish the roses and the flowers'-how is it? Now to the brighter side. I am emancipated from the Westwoods, and I am with attentive people and younger. I am three or four miles nearer the great city; coaches half-price less and going always, of which I will avail myself. I have few friends left there; one or two though, most beloved. But London streets and faces cheer me inexpressibly, though not one known of the latter were remaining."

Emma Isola is "the adopted young friend" referred to by Lamb in a letter quoted a few pages back. She was the granddaughter of an Italian refugee; her mother was dead; her father was an "Esquire Bedell" of Cambridge, and the Lambs met her at the house of a friend when they were visiting that town in 1823. She was a charming, brown-faced little girl, and they were so taken with her that she was invited to visit them in London during her holidays, and they ended by adopting her and calling her their niece. She brought a great deal of happiness into their lives; Lamb gives whimsical accounts in some of his letters of how he is teaching her Latin, and his sister is prompting her in her French lessons. When she was old enough she became governess in the family of a Mr. and Mrs. Williams at Bury; fell ill and was kindly nursed there; and Lamb tells in one of his most delightful letters how he went to fetch her home to Enfield, when she was convalescent, and it is good to glimpse how sympathetically amused he is at Emma's covert admonitions and anxiety lest he should drink too much, at dinner with the Williamses, and so bring disgrace upon himself and her.

His beautiful affection for their young ward shines through all the drollery of his several notes to Edward Moxon (the publisher) in which he speaks of their engagement; and it has always seemed to me it is this same underlying affection for her and wistfulness to see her happy that help to make the following letter, written just after the wedding, one of the finest and most pathetic things in literature:-

"August 1833.

"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Moxon,-Time very short. I wrote to Miss Fryer, and had the sweetest letter about you, Emma, that ever friendship dictated. 'I am full of good wishes, I am crying with good wishes,' she says; but you shall see it.

"Dear Moxon, I take your writing most kindly, and shall most kindly your writing from Paris. I want to crowd another letter to Miss Fryer into the little time after dinner, before post time. So with twenty thousand congratulations,-Yours,

C. L.

"I am calm, sober, happy. Turn over for the reason. I got home from Dover Street, by Evans, half as sober as a judge. I am turning over a new leaf, as I hope you will now."


[The turn of the leaf presents the following:-]

"My dear Emma and Edward Moxon,-Accept my sincere congratulations, and imagine more good wishes than my weak nerves will let me put into good set words. The dreary blank of unanswered questions which I ventured to ask in vain was cleared up on the wedding day by Mrs. W. taking a glass of wine and, with a total change of countenance, begging leave to drink Mr. and Mrs. Moxon's health. It restored me from that moment, as if by an electrical stroke, to the entire possession of my senses. I never felt so calm and quiet after a similar illness as I do now. I feel as if all tears were wiped from my eyes, and all care from my heart.

Mary Lamb."


"Dears again,-Your letter interrupted a seventh game at picquet which we were having, after walking to Wright's and purchasing shoes. We pass our time in cards, walks, and reading. We attack Tasso soon.

"C. L.

"Never was such a calm, or such a recovery. 'Tis her own words undictated."

And it was in this plain, commonplace little cottage in Church Street, Edmonton, that Mary Lamb was thus suddenly awakened out of her derangement; that Charles Lamb and she wrote, by turns, that letter to the Moxons; that the Lambs sat contentedly playing picquet when the letter of the bride and bridegroom came to them from Paris. These are the very rooms in which these things happened; the stage remains, but the actors are departed. Within a stone's throw of the house, in Edmonton Churchyard, Lamb and his sister lie buried. His death was the result of an accident. He had gone on his accustomed walk along the London Road, one day in December, when he stumbled and fell over a stone, slightly injuring his face. So trivial did the wound seem that writing to George Dyer's wife on the 22nd December 1834, about a book he had lost when he was in London-"it was the book I went to fetch from Miss Buffham's while the tripe was frying"-he says nothing of anything being the matter with him. But erysipelas supervened, and he grew rapidly worse, and died on the 27th. His sister, who had lapsed into one of her illnesses and was unconscious, at the time, of her loss, outlived him by nearly thirteen years, and reached the great age of eighty-two.

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