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the very fact that we are thus continually renewing our experience of an older day. His style becomes aromatic, like the perfume of faded rose-leaves in a china jar. With such allusiveness as this, I need not say that I have not meddled in my notes. Its whole charm lies in our recognising it for ourselves. The "prosperity” of an allusion, as of a jest, “lies in the ear of him that hears it,” and it were doing a poor service to Lamb or his readers to draw out and arrange in order the threads he has wrought into the very fabric of his English.
But although Lamb's style is essentially the product of the authors he had made his own, nothing would be more untrue than to say of him that he read nature, or anything else, “through the spectacles of books.” Wordsworth would never have called to him to leave his books that he might come forth, and bring with him a heart
" That watches and receives.” It is to his own keen insight and intense sympathy that we owe everything of value in his writing. His observation was his own, though when he gave it back into the world, the manner of it was the creation of his reading. Where, for instance, he describes (and it is seldom) the impression produced on him by country sights and sounds, there is not a trace discoverable of that conventional treatment of nature which had been so common with mere book-men, before Burns and Wordsworth. Lamb did not care greatly for the country and its associations. Custom had made the presence of society, streets and crowds, the theatre and the picture gallery, an absolute necessity. Yet if he has to reproduce a memory of rural life, it is with the precision and tenderness of a Wordsworth. Take, as an example, this exquisite glimpse of a summer afternoon at Blakesware :-" The cheerful store-room, in whose hot window-seat I used to sit and read Cowley, with the grass-plot before, and the hum and flappings of that one solitary wasp that ever haunted it, about me--it is in mine ears now, as oft as summer returns :" or again, the sweet garden scene from Dream Children, where the spirit of Wordsworth seems to contend for mastery with the fancifulness of Marvell,“ because I had more pleasure in strolling about among the old melancholy-looking yew-trees, or the firs, and picking up the red berries and the fir apples, which were good for nothing but to look at- -or in lying about upon the fresh grass, with all the fine garden smells around me—or basking in the orangery, till I could almost fancy myself ripening too along with the oranges and limes in that grateful warmth—or in watching the dace that darted to and fro in the fish pond at the bottom of the garden, with here and there a great sulky pike hanging midway down the water in silent state, as if it mocked at their impertinent friskings.” It is hard to say whether the poet's eye or the painter's is more surely exhibited here. The "solitary wasp" and the “sulky pike” are master-touches ; and in the following passage it is perhaps as much of Cattermole as of Goldsmith or Gray, that we are reminded : “But would'st thou know the beauty of holiness ?-go alone on some week-day, borrowing the keys of good Master Sexton, traverse the cool aisles of some country church : think of the piety that has kneeled there—the meek pastor-the docile parishioner. With no disturbing emotions, no cross conflicting comparisons, drink in the tranquillity of the place, till thou thyself become as fixed and motionless as the marble effigies that kneel and weep around thee.”
The idea that some readers might derive from the casual titles and subjects of these essays, and the discursiveness of their treatment, that they are hasty things thrown off in a moment of high spirits, is of course
Lamb somewhere writes of the essay just quoted, as a “futile effort wrung from him with slow pain.” Perhaps this was an extreme case, but it is clear that most of the essays are the result of careful manipulation. They are elaborate studies in style, and even in colour. Nothing is more remarkable about the essays
than the contrasts of colour they present—another illustration of Lamb's sympathy with the painter's art. The essay on the Chimney-Sweepers is a study in black :
“ I like to meet a sweep— understand me— not a grown sweeper-old chimney-sweepers are by no means attractive—but one of those tender novices, blooming through their first nigritude, the maternal washings not quite effaced from the cheek—such as come forth with the dawn, or somewhat earlier, with their little professional notes sounding like the peep peep of a young sparrow; or liker to the matin lark, shall I pronounce them, in their aerial ascents not seldom anticipating the sunrise ? I have a kindly yearning towards those dim specks— poor blots-innocent blacknesses—I reverence these young
Africans of our own growth— these almost clergy imps, who sport their cloth without assumption.”
And if one would understand Lamb's skill as a colourist, let him turn as a contrast to the essay on Quakers, which may be called a study in dove-colour :very garments of a Quaker seem incapable of receiving a soil; and cleanliness in them to be something more than the absence of its contrary. Every Quakeress is a lily; and when they come up in bands to their Whitsun conferences, whitening the easterly streets of the metropolis, from all parts of the United Kingdom, they show like troops of the Shining Ones.”
The essay on Chimney-Sweepers is one blaze of wit, which yet may pass unobserved from the very richness of its setting. How surprising, and at the same time how picturesque, is the following :- “I seem to remember having been told that a bad sweep was once left in the stack with his brush, to indicate which way the wind blew. It was an awful spectacle, certainly, not much unlike the old stage direction in Macbeth, where the apparition of a child crowned, with a tree in his hand, rises.'” Lamb's wit, original as it is, shows often enough the influence of particular models. Of all old writers, none had a firmer hold on his affection than
Fuller. Now and then he has passages in deliberate imitation of Fuller's manner. The descriptions, in detached sentences, of the Poor Relation and the Convalescent are Fuller all over. When Lamb writes of the Poor Relation—“He entereth smiling and embarrassed. He holdeth out his hand to you to shake, and draweth it back again. He casually looketh in about dinner-time, when the table is full,”—and so on, there can be no doubt that he had in mind such characterisation as Fuller's in the Good Yeoman, or the Degenerous Gentleman. The manner is due originally, of course, to Theophrastus, but it was from Fuller, I think, that Lamb derived his fondness for it. And throughout his writings the influence of this humorist is to be traced. How entirely in the vein of Fuller, for instance, is the following :-" They (the sweeps), from their little pulpits (the tops of chimneys), preach a lesson of patience to mankind ;” or this, again, from the essay Grace Before Meat: -“ Gluttony and surfeiting are no proper occasions for thanksgiving When Jeshurun waxed fat, we read that he kicked ;” or, once more, this fine comment on the stillness of the Quaker's worship :-“For a man to refrain even from good words and to hold his peace, it is commendable ; but for a multitude, it is great mastery."
But Lamb's wit, like his English, is Protean, and just as we think we have fixed its character and source, it escapes into new forms.
In simile he finds opportunity for it that is all his own. What, for instance, can be more surprising in its unexpectedness than the description in The Old Margate Hoy of the ubiquitous sailor on board :-“How busily didst thou ply thy multifarious occupation, cook, mariner, attendant, chamberlain ; here, there, like another Ariel, flaming at once about all parts of the deck”? Again, what wit—or shall we call it humour—is there in the gravity of his detail, by which he touches springs of delight unreached even by Defoe or Swift; as in Roast Pig, where he says that the “ father and son were summoned to take their trial at Pekin, then
an inconsiderable assize town ;” or more delightful still, later on :-“ Thus this custom of firing houses continued, till in process of time, says my manuscript, a sage arose, like our Locke, who made a discovery that the flesh of swine, or indeed of any other animal, might be cooked (burnt, as they called it) without the necessity of consuming a whole house to dress it.” Or, for another vein, take the account of the mendacious traveller he affects to remember as a fellow-passenger on his early voyage in the old Margate Hoy, who assures his admiring listeners that, so far from the Phoenix being a unique bird, it was by no means uncommon “in some parts of Upper Egypt," where the whole episode is not one jot the less humorous because it is clear to the reader, not that the traveller invented his facts, but that Lamb invented the traveller. Or yet once more, how exquisitely unforeseen, and how rich in tenderness, is the following remark as to the domestic happiness of himself and his “cousin Bridget" in Mackery End :-“We are generally in harmony, with occasional bickerings—as it should be among near relations." What is the name for this antithesis of ironythis hiding of a sweet aftertaste in a bitter word ? Whatever its name, it is a dominant flavour in Lamb's humour. There are two features, I think, of Lamb's method which distinguish him from so many humorists of to-day. He takes homely and familiar things, and makes them fresh and beautiful. The fashion of to-day is to vulgarise great and noble things by burlesque associations. The humorist's contrast is obtained in both cases ; only that in the one it elevates the commonplace, and in the other it degrades the excellent. And, secondly, in this generation, when what is meant to raise a laugh has, nine times out of ten, its root in cynicism, it should be refreshing to turn again and dwell in the humane atmosphere of these essays of Elia.
To many other qualities that go to make up that highly composite thing, Lamb's humour -to that feature of it that consists in the unabashed display of his own uncon