« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
checked into a prostrate inability to tell what she sees, is very fine. Yet true to her second nature, Mrs. Butler maintains to the last the character with which she set out. The stupendous magniticence even of Niagara does not quite sober her habitual intoxication-she has still a silver cloud,' and she drops the curtain like a German dramatist, with an oath and an attitude.
We should be very much mortified, if the views we have taken, or the extracts we have made, should prevent any one from reading this work. We have, we believe, suggested all that can be objected to it, but we have not, and within our limits could not, indicate a hundredth part of the amusement it will afford; above all, we feel that we have given a very inadequate idea of that solid good sense, and those sound principles of social and moral life, which lie at the bottom of the whole work, though they are too often concealed or obscured by the exuberant vegetation of the rank soil and hot sky of the profession with which Mrs. Butler has become so entirely assimilated and so absolutely identified.
Art. III.—The Last Essays of Elia. London. 12mo. 1833. A
MELANCHOLY title for a living man to affix to a work ;
and how soon was the implied presage made good in death! The last enemy has been dealing wrathfully with the great authors of our day; they have been shot at like marks,-cut off like overtopping flowers,—till the two or three that survive seem solitary and deserted,—their fellows strown around them,-themselves menorials at once and specimens of a by-gone or a fast receding age. Long may those remain to us that do remain ! We have sore need of them all to stem the muddy current of vulgar authorship that sets so strongly upon us, and to vindicate literature from the mountebank sciolism of science in caricature. We forgive all differences of opinion, overlook all animosities of party, Tros Tyriusve, we regard it not,—may we but find in a writer a due sense of the dignity and lofty uses of his vocation, and the manliness to abate no jot of its rightful claims to superiority over the penny-diffused quackery of these our times.
Charles Lamb was not the greatest, nor equal to the greatest, among his famous contemporaries, either in splendour or in depth; but he was, perhaps, the most singular and individual. He was one of nature's curiosities, and amongst her richest and rarest. Other men act by their faculties, and you can easily distinguish the predominance of one faculty over another : A.'s genius is greater than his talent, though that is considerable ; B.'s talent is beyond his genius, though that be respectable ;-we dissect the author, take so much of him as we like, and throw the rest away. But you could not so deal with Lamb. He was all-compact_inner and outer man in perfect fusion,—all the powers of the mind, -the sensations of the body, interpenetrating each other. His genius was talent, and his talent genius; his imagination and fancy one and indivisible; the finest scalpel of the metaphysician could not have separated them. His poems, his criticisms, his essays,-call them his Elius, to distinguish them from anything else in the world,—these were not merely written by Lamb,—they were and are Lamb,-just the gentle, fantastic, subtle creature himself printed off. In a library of a thousand volumes you shall not find two that will give you such a bright and living impress of the author's own very soul. Austin's, Rousseau's,-all the Confessions on record, are false and hollow in comparison. There he is, as he was, the working or the superannuated clerk,- very grave and very wild, -tender and fierce at a flash, learned enough, and more so than you thought,-yet ignorant, may be, of school-boy points, and glorious in his ignorance,-seeming to halt behind all, and then with one fling overJeaping the most approved doctor of the room; witty and humorous. But Lamb's wit requires a word or two of analysis for itself. Wit is not humour, nor is humour wit. Punning is neither, and the grotesque is a fourth power, different from all. Lamb had all these, not separately each as such, but massed together into the strangest intellectual compound ever seen in man.
And even besides these he had an indefinable something,-a Lambism,about him, which defied naming or description. He stammered, the stammer went for something in producing the effect; he would adjure a small piece for the nonce, -it gave weight;—perhaps he drank a glass of punch; believe us, it all told. It follows that Lamb's good things cannot be repeated.
But a small part,—and that not the best,--of Lamb's writings, will ever be genially received out of England. If we were to confine bim even to London,--the olden, playgoing London,—we should not do him wrong in respect of some of his happiest efforts.
He was born in Crown-Office Row, in the Temple, and he loved London to his heart ;--- not the West End, understand ;-he cared little for Pall-Mall; May Fair was nothing to him. Give him the kindly Temple with its fair garden, and its church and cloisters, before they were lightened of their proper gloominess. He sorely grudged the whitewasbing spirit of the modern masters of the Bench. Why gothicise the entrance to the Inner Temple hall, and the library front? "What is become,' he says, 'of the winged horse that stood over the former?-a stately arms! And who has removed those frescoes of the Virtues, which Italianized the end of Paper Buildings ?-my first hint of allegory! They must account to me for these things which I miss so greatly.'
Lamb loved the town as well as Johnson-but he had a keen eye, and loved the country too; yet not absolutely the country at Jarge ; but so it were suburban, within dim sight of St. Paul's transcending a stone's throw the short coach and the omnibus. He had seen Cumberland and Westmoreland; but Hornsey satistied his soul. And who may not-if his spirit be but tuned arighttake his full measure of delight in the quietude and natural imagery of the humblest rural district? If ambition or depraved appetite pervert him not, trees and fields, flowers and streams—the most ordinary of their kind-may waken all the sensibilities of his deepest life, and steep them in Paradise. No man ever had a livelier apprehension of the charms of this our earthly existence than Lamb; he clung to upper air; he could not bring himself to contemplate death with that calm expectancy of soul which he venerated in his friend Coleridge. The most deeply pathetic, the most singularly characteristic of all Charles Lamb's etfusions, is the essay on New Year's Eve in the first volume of Elia. Take this passage, wbich we dare
say will be new to thousands of our readers :• The elders, with whom I was brought up, were of a character not likely to let slip the sacred observance of any old institution; and the ringing out of the old year was kept by them with circumstances of peculiar ceremony.- In those days the sound of those midnight chimes, though it seemed to rouse hilarity in all around me, never failed to bring a train of pensive imagery into my fancy. Yet I then scarce conceived what it meant, or thought of it as a reckoning that concerned me. Not childhood alone, but the young man till thirty, never feels practically that he is mortal. He knows it indeed, and, if need were, he could preach a homily on the fragility of life; but he brings it not home to himself, any more than in a hot June we can appropriate to our imagination the freezing days of December. But now, shall I confess a truth ?-I feel these audits but too powerfully. I begin to count the probabilities of my duration, and to grudge at the expenditure of moments, like miser's farthings. In proportion as the years both lessen and shorten, I set more count upon their periods, and would fain lay my ineffectual finger upon the spoke of the great wheel. I am not content to pass away like a weaver's shuttle. Those metaphors solace me not, nor sweeten the unpalatable draft of mortality. I care not to be carried with the tide, that smoothly bears human life to eternity; and reluct at the inevitable course of destiny. I am in love with this green earth, the face of town and country, the unspeakable rural solitudes, and the sweet security of streets. I would set up my tabernacle here. I am content to stand still at the age to which I am arrived,--I and my friends ; to be no younger, no
richer, no handsomer. I do not want to be weaned by age, or drop, like mellow fruit, as they say, into the grave. Any alteration on this earth of mine, in diet or in lodging, puzzles and discomposes me. My household-gods plant a terrible fixed foot, and are not rooted up without blood. They do not willingly seek Lavinian shores. A new state of being staggers me.
Sun, and sky, and breeze, and solitary walks, and summer holidays, and the greenness of fields, and the delicious juices of meats and fishes, and society, and the cheerful glass, and cundle-light, and fire-side conversations, and innocent vanities, and jests, and irony itself-do these things go out with life?
Can a ghost laugh, or shake his gaunt sides, when you are pleasant with him ?
* And you, my midnight darlings, my folios ! must I part with the intense delight of having you (huge armfulls) in my embraces ? Must knowledge come to me, if it come at all, by some awkward experiment of intuition, and no longer by this familiar process of reading ?
Shall I enjoy friendships there, wanting the smiling indications which point me to them here,—the recognizable face—the sweet assurance of a look ? *
• In winter this intolerable disinclination to dying-to give it its mildest name—does more especially haunt and beset me. In a genial August noon, beneath a sweltering sky, death is almost problematic. At those times do such poor snakes as myself enjoy an immortality. Then we expand and burgeon. Then are we as strong again, as valiant again, as wise again, and a great deal taller. The blast that nips and shrinks me, puts me in thoughts of death. All things allied to the unsubstantial wait upon that master feeling; cold, numbness, dreams, perplexity ; moonlight itself, with its shadowy and spectral appearances,—that cold ghost of the sun, or Phæbus's sickly sister, like that innutritious one denounced in the Canticles:-I am none of her minions—I hold with the Persian.
Whatsoever thwarts or puts me out of my way, brings death into my mind. All partial evils, like humours, run into that capital plaguesore. I have heard some profess an indifference to life. Such hail the end of their existence as a port of refuge; and speak of the grave
* • I have asked that dreadful question of the hills,
That look eternal; of the flowing streams,
Again, Clemanthe!' We venture to quote from Ion, a Tragedy,' a work of very great beauty and power, by an intimate friend of Lamb's--Mr. Sergeant Talfourd. Why is not this drama published in the usual way? We cannot imagine what the accomplished author can mean by wishing to precluile the supposition that he would henceforth employ his leisure in the composition of works like • Ion. Should literature ever be so treated ;- and in the preseut instance, in comparison with what?
as of some soft arms, in which they may slumber as on a pillow. Some have wooed death—but out upon thee, I say, thou foul, ugly phantom ! I detest, abhor, execrate, and (with Friar John) give thee to six-score thousand devils, as in no instance to be excused or tolerated, but shunned as a universal viper; to be branded, proscribed, and evil spoken of! In no way can I be brought to digest thee, thou thin, melancholy Privation, or more frightful and confounding Positive!
* Those antidotes, prescribed against the fear of thee, are altogether frigid and insulting, like thyself. For what satisfaction hath a man that he shall “ lie down with kings and emperors in death,” who in his life-time never greatly coveted the society of such bed-fellows ?—or, forsooth, that so shall the fairest face appear?”—why, to comfort me, must Alice W- -n be a goblin? More than all, I conceive disgust at those impertinent and misbecoming familiarities, inscribed upon your ordinary tomb-stones. Every dead man must take upon himself to be lecturing me with his odious truism, that “such as he now is, I must shortly be.” Not so shortly, friend, perhaps, as thou imaginest. In the mean time, I am alive. I move about. I am worth twenty of thee. Know thy betters! Thy new year's days are past. I survive, a jolly candidate for 1821. Another cup of wineand while that turncoat bell, that just now mournfully chaunted the obsequies of 1820 departed, with changed notes lustily rings in a suc. cessor, let us attune to its peal the song made on a like occasion, by hearty, cheerful Mr. Cotton
" Hark, the cock crows,” &c. • How say you, reader-do not these verses smack of the rough magnanimity of the old English vein ? Do they not fortify like a cordial-enlarging the heart, and productive of sweet blood and generous spirits in the concoction? Where be those puling fears of death, just now expressed or affected ? — Passed like a cloudabsorbed in the purging sunlight of clear poetry-clean washed away by a wave of genuine Helicon, your only Spa for these hypochondries. And now another cup of the generous ! and a merry new year, and many of them, to you all, my masters !- Elia, p. 71.
Here are themes for thought; but we touch them not. There are, however, peculiarities of manner which require a moment's attention. The readers even of this passage—much more those who peruse the writings of Lamb generally, and his Essays in particular— must be struck with a certain air and trick of the antique phrase, unlike anything in the style of any contemporary writer. This manner has been called affected; many think it forced, quaint, unnatural. They suppose it all done on purpose. Now nothing can be farther from the fact. That the cast of language distinguishing almost all Lamb's works is not the style of the present day is very true; but it was his style nevertheless. It is altogether a curious matter
one strongly illustrating the assi