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CHARLES LA MB:
CHIEFLY OF HIS LETTERS NOT BEFORE PUBLISHED, WITH SKETCHES OF
WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, ESQ. D.C.L.
THESE FINAL MEMORIALS
OF ONE WHO CHERISHED HIS FRIENDSHIP AS A COMFORT AMIDST GRIEFS
AND A GLORY AMIDST DEPRESSIONS, ARE,
WITH AFFECTION AND RESPECT,
BY ONE WHOSE PRIDE IS TO HAVE BEEN IN OLD TIME HIS EARNEST ADMIRER,
AND ONE OF WHOSE FONDEST WISHES IS
THAT HE MAY BE LONG SPARED TO ENJOY FAME, RARELY ACCORDED
TO THE LIVING,
NEARLY twelve years have elapsed since the Letters of Charles Lamb, accompanied by such slight sketch of his Life as might link them together, and explain the circumstances to which they refer, were given to the world. In the Preface to that work, reference was made to letters yet remaining unpublished, and to a period when a more complete estimate might be formed of the singular and delightful character of the writer than was there presented. That period has arrived. Several of his friends, who might possibly have felt a moment's pain at the publication of some of those effusions of kindness, in which they are sportively mentioned, have been removed by death; and the dismissal of the last, and to him the dearest of all, his sister, while it has brought to her the repose she sighed for ever since she lost him, has released his biographer from a difficulty which has hitherto prevented a due appreciation of some of his noblest qualities. Her most lamentable, but most innocent agency in the event which consigned her for life to his protection, forbade the introduction of any letter, or allusion to any incident, which might ever, in the long and dismal twilight of consciousness which she endured, shock her by the recurrence of long past and terrible sorrows; and the same consideration for her induced the suppression of every passage which referred to the malady with which she was through life at intervals afflicted. Although her death had removed the objection to a reference to her intermittent suffering, it still left a momentous question, whether even then, when no relative remained to be affected by the disclosure, it would be right to unveil the dreadful calamity which marked one of its earliest visitations, and which, though known to most of those who were intimate with the surviving sufferers, had never been publicly associated with their history. When, however, I reflected that the truth, while in no wise affecting the gentle excellence of one of them, casts new and solemn lights on the character of the other; that while his frailties have received an ample share of that indulgence which he extended to all human weaknesses, their chief exciting cause has been hidden ; that his moral strength and the extent of his self-sacrifice have been hitherto unknown to the world; I felt that to develope all which is essential to the just appreciation of his rare excellence, was due both to him and to the public. While I still hesitated as to the extent of disclosure needful for this purpose, my lingering doubts were removed by the appearance of a full statement of the melancholy event, with all the details capable of being collected from the
newspapers of the time, in the “ British Quarterly Review," and the diffusion of the passage, extracted thence, through several other journals. After this publication, no doubt could remain as to the propriety of publishing the letters of Lamb on this event, eminently exalting the characters of himself and his sister, and enabling the reader to judge of the sacrifice which followed it.
I have also availed myself of the opportunity of introducing some letters, the objection to publishing which has been obviated by the same great healer, Time; and of adding others which I deemed too trivial for the public eye, when the whole wealth of his letters lay before me, collected by Mr. Moxon from the distinguished correspondents of Lamb, who kindly responded to his request for permission to make the public sharers in their choice epistolary treasures. The appreciation which the letters already published, both in this country and in America—perhaps even more remarkable in America than in England—have attained, and the interest which the lightest fragments of Lamb's correspondence, which have accidentally appeared in other quarters, have excited, convince me that some letters which I withheld, as doubting their worthiness of the public eye, will not now be unwelcome. There is, indeed, scarcely a note—a notelet—as he used to call his very little letters) Lamb ever wrote, which has not some tinge of that quaint sweetness, some hint of that peculiar union of kindness and whim, which distinguish him from all other poets and humorists. I do not think the reader will complain that—with some very slight exceptions, which personal considerations still render necessary-I have made him a partaker of all the epistolary treasures which the generosity of Lamb's correspondents placed at Mr. Moxon's disposal.
When I first considered the materials of this work, I purposed to combine them with a new edition of the former volumes; but the consideration that such a course would be unjust to the possessors of those volumes induced me to present them to the public in a separate form. In accomplishing that object, I have felt the difficulty of connecting the letters so as to render their attendant circumstances intelligible, without falling into repetition of passages in the previous biography. My attempt has been to make these volumes subsidiary to the former, and yet complete in themselves ; but I fear its imperfection will require much indulgence from the reader. The italics and capitals used in printing the letters are always those of the writer; and the little passages sometimes prefixed to letters, have been printed as in the originals.
In venturing to introduce some notices of Lamb's deceased companions, I have been impelled partly by a desire to explain any allusion in the letters which might be misunderstood by those who are not familiar with the fine vagaries of Lamb's affection, and partly by the hope of giving some faint notion of the entire circle with which Lamb is associated in the recollection of a few survivors.
T, N. T.
London, July, 1848.
FINAL MEMORIALS OF CHARLES LAMB.
LETTERS OF LAMB TO COLERIDGE, IN THE SPRING AND
SUMMER OP 1796.
the society of Coleridge, who had just left London-of Coleridge in the first bloom of
life and genius, unshaded by the mysticism In the year 1795, Charles Lamb resided which it afterwards glorified—full of boundwith his father, mother, and sister, in lodg- less ambition, love, and hope ! There was a ings at No. 7, Little Queen-street, Holborn. tendency to insanity in his family, which had The father was rapidly sinking into dotage ; been more than once developed in his sister ; the mother suffered under an infirmity which and it was no matter of surprise that in deprived her of the use of her limbs ; and the dreariness of his solitude it fell upon the sister not only undertook the office of him ; and that, at the close of the year, he daily and nightly attendance on her mother, was subjected for a few weeks to the rebut sought to add by needle-work to their straint of the insane. The wonder is that, slender resources. Their income then con- amidst all the difficulties, the sorrows, and sisted of an annuity which Mr. Lamb the the excitements of his succeeding forty years, elder derived from the old Bencher, Mr. Salt, it never recurred. Perhaps the true cause whom he had faithfully served for many of this remarkable exemption—an exemption years; Charles's salary, which, being that of the more remarkable when his afflictions a clerk of three years' standing in the India are considered in association with one single House, could have been but scanty; and a frailty—will be found in the sudden claim small payment made for board by an old made on his moral and intellectual nature maiden aunt, who resided with them. In by a terrible exigency, and by his generous this year Lamb, being just twenty years of answer to that claim ; so that a life of selfage, began to write verses—partly incited by sacrifice was rewarded by the preservation the example of his old friend, Coleridge, of unclouded reason. whom he regarded with as much reverence The following letter to Coleridge, then as affection, and partly inspired by an attach- residing at Bristol, which is undated, but ment to a young lady residing in the neigh- which is proved by circumstances to have bourhood of Islington, who is commemorated been written in the spring of 1796, and which in his early verses as “the fair-haired maid.” is probably the earliest of Lamb's letters How his love prospered we cannot ascertain ; which have been preserved, contains his own but we know how nobly that love, and all account of this seizure. Allusion to the hope of the earthly blessings attendant on same event will be perceived in two letters such an affection, were resigned on the catas- of the same year, after which no reference trophe which darkened the following year. to it appears in his correspondence, nor can In the meantime, his youth was lonely- any be remembered in his conversations rendered the more so by the recollection of with his dearest friends.