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selves in this particular form, and as there have been, so there may be again. Let us hope for the best.
It is an interesting theme, but I must pass it by, to dwell with you upon one notable and charming practiser of the art — the “unpremeditated art,” to use Shelley's phrase-of familiar letter-writing. The letters of Lamb have a great variety of interest for us. Taken together and read in order, they form of themselves an autobiography. Of his childhood and youth; his school-time and his holiday seasons; his family and his home surroundings; and the books that trained and fostered his genius of all these things the Essays of Elia tell us fully, and his letters complete the story. They begin in the year that he came of age (1796), and with a few regrettable intervals, not easy to explain, they continue in regular order until within a few days of his death, eight-and-thirty years after. I cannot recall any incident in his life (or Mary's, which is the same thing) that the letters do not deal with. All the joys and sorrows of their “dual loneliness ”_all their literary pursuits, with the attendant triumphs or disappointments—will be found chronicled there. There is not one of the many sides of his singularly composite being that does not come in turn to the front. Every mood is reflected, from the deep anguish of family bereavement to the lightest vein of raillery, and even the most rollicking horse-play. For Lamb wrote differently to different persons.
This is as it should be, Letters, to be worth anything, should tell us something about the person they are written to. If a writer is in genuine sympathy with his correspondent, the letter inevitably reflects something of the nature of the friend addressed. And then, what a circle of friends and intimates Charles Lamb was privileged to have ! Other famous collections of letters in our literature are memorable because of the writer, and derive but little interest from the persons addressed. Take those of the poet Cowper, perhaps the closest parallel in kind with Lamb's, and among the most fascinating and delightful reading in our literature. What do we know or care about young Mr. Unwin, or Mr. Hill, or even about Hayley or the Rev. Mr. Newton? They are really only familiar to us at all because Cowper numbered them among his correspondents. So also, I think most of you know the name of Mason chiefly through Gray's letters, and Sir Horace Mann mainly through Walpole's. But think of the chief names in the roll of Lamb's letter-writing friends — Coleridge, Southey, Wordsworth, Manning, Leigh Hunt, and Hazlitt; not to mention Bernard Barton, Godwin, Barry Cornwall, and Thomas Hood. And, as I have said, Lamb wrote differently to these different friends. Those who know and love his letters from long familiarity can recognise this variety of touch—even when the subjects of the letters are nearly akin-as he gossips
with Coleridge or Manning, with Southey or Barton.
I do not know that I can do better than illustrate from the letters themselves some of the rarer and more noticeable faculties of Lamb. And it is remarkable, as I have elsewhere observed, that the intellectual accomplishment which asserts itself earliest is just that which ordinarily it takes years, with their increasing experience and wider reading and study, to mature-I mean the critical faculty. Lamb's earliest letters that have survived begin when he was just of age, and his two chief correspondents for the next three years were young men like himself-one his old schoolfellow, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, three years his senior, and the other, whom he had come to know through Coleridge, and who was associated with Coleridge by so many close ties, Robert Southey. All three were starting on a literary career, full of ambition: two of them with the intention of making it their profession, the other, happily for himself, settling down to that desk in Leadenhall which was to prove (though he knew it not) his best blessing and safeguard for thirty years to come. Apart from the family matters—sad and terrible they were—discussed in these letters, the chief topics dealt with are literary and critical. Coleridge and Southey forward to their friend their verses, their lyrics and eclogues, for his opinion and suggestions; and he in turn submits to them
his sonnets and elegies, plaintive and tender after his model William Lisle Bowles. Coleridge and Southey, each endowed with a poetic gift far stronger and richer than Lamb's, yet at once recognise in their companion—no university man like themselves, lowly in his home and traditions, humble in his life's occupation—this rare and precious gift of critical insight. These earliest letters of Lamb show how amply justified was their confidence in his powers.
If the art of poetical criticism could be made matter of instruction, I know no better introduction to the study than these scattered criticisms of his, first upon Coleridge and Southey's verse, and afterwards upon Wordsworth's, and generally upon all poetry, ancient and modern, quoted or referred to incidentally in these familiar letters. Lamb was among the first to detect the great powers of Coleridge and Wordsworth before the wit of the Anti-Jacobin and English Bards and Scotch Reviewers had done their utmost to crush those writers, and while the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews were yet unborn. This boy of twenty-one was already showing that, together with the keenest eye for the weaker side of these poetical reformers, with a true humourist's enjoyment of what was absurd or puerile in their methods, that enjoyment in no way disturbed his appreciation of their genius. With all his prejudices and petulances (and Lamb had plenty of these) the distinguishing feature of his critical power is its width and its versatility, The deepest of all his literary affections, that for Milton, no more interfered with his intense enjoyment of Pope, than did his delight in Pope delay for an instant his recognising the value of Cowper and Burns and their successors. Lamb is our best and wholesomest example of that rare ability to value and enjoy one great literary school without at the same time disparaging its opposites. And he had that even rarer ability to recognise that the same writer often rises above himself, and often sinks below it. These early letters to Coleridge are full of proofs of this.
He laughs as frankly at what was namby-pamby in Coleridge and Wordsworth, as he descants with genuine enthusiasm on the "Ancient Mariner" and the “ Lines written above Tintern Abbey." He anticipates, curiously enough, the AntiJacobin in parodying Southey and Coleridge's
dactylics” on the “Soldier's Wife," which Coleridge had sent him in a letter in the summer of 1796: “What shall I say," he replies, “to your dactyls? They are what you would call good per se, but a parody on some of 'em is just now suggesting itself, and you shall have it rough and unlicked; I mark with figures the lines parodied :
4. Sorely your dactyls do drag along limp-footed. 5. Sad is the measure that hangs a clog round 'em so. 6. Meagre and languid, proclaiming its wretchedness. 1. Weary, unsatisfied, not little sick of 'em.