Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

on. Other people again like an essay to be about something really important, and to conduct them to conclusions they deem worth carrying away. Lamb's views about indiscriminate almsgiving, so far as these can be extracted from his paper On the Decay of Beggars in the Metropolis, are unsound, whilst there are at least three ladies still living (in Brighton) quite respectably on their means, who consider the essay entitled A Bachelor's Complaint of the Behaviour of Married People improper. But, as a rule, Lamb's essays are neither unsound nor improper; none the less they are, in the judgment of some, things of naught-not only lacking, as Southey complained they did, "sound religious feeling," but everything else really worthy of attention.

To discuss such congenital differences of taste is idle; but it is not idle to observe that when Lamb is read, as he surely deserves to be, as a whole-letters and poems no less than essaysthese notes of fantasy and artificiality no longer dominate. The man Charles Lamb was far more real, far more serious despite his jesting, more self-contained and self-restrained than Hazlitt, who wasted his life in the pursuit of the veriest will-o'-the-wisps that ever danced over the most miasmatic of swamps, who was never his own man, and who died, like Brian de Bois-Guilbert," the victim of contending passions." It should never be forgotten that Lamb's vocation was his life. Literature was but his by-play, his avocation in the true sense of that much-abused word. He was not a fisherman but an angler in the lake of letters; an author by chance and on the sly. He had

[ocr errors]

a right to disport himself on paper, to play the frolic with his own fancies, to give the decalogue the slip, whose life was made up of the sternest stuff, of self-sacrifice, devotion, honesty, and good sense.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Lamb's letters from first to last are full of the philosophy of life; he was as sensible a man as Dr. Johnson. One grows sick of the expressions, poor Charles Lamb," gentle Charles Lamb," as if he were one of those grown-up children of the Leigh Hunt type, who are perpetually begging and borrowing through the round of every man's acquaintance. Charles Lamb earned his own living, paid his own way, was the helper, not the helped; a man who was beholden to no one, who always came with gifts in his hand, a shrewd man capable of advice, strong in counsel. Poor Lamb indeed! Poor Coleridge, robbed of his will; poor Wordsworth, devoured by his own ego; poor Southey, writing his tomes and deeming himself a classic; poor Carlyle, with his nine volumes of memoirs,

where he

Lies like a hedgehog rolled up the wrong way,
Tormenting himself with his prickles-

call these men poor, if you feel it decent to do so,
but not Lamb, who was rich in all that makes life
valuable or memory sweet.
But he used to get
drunk. This explains all. Be untruthful, unfaith-
ful, unkind; darken the lives of all who have to
live under your shadow, rob youth of joy, take
peace from age, live unsought for, die unmourned,
-and remaining sober you will escape the curse of
men's pity, and be spoken of as a worthy person.
But if ever, amidst what Burns called "social

B

noise," you so far forget yourself as to get drunk, think not to plead a spotless life spent with those for whom you have laboured and saved; talk not of the love of friends or of help given to the needy; least of all make reference to a noble self-sacrifice passing the love of women, for all will avail you nothing. You get drunk,-and the heartless and the selfish and the lewd crave the privilege of pitying you, and receiving your name with an odious smile. It is really too bad.

The completion of Mr. Ainger's edition of Lamb's works deserves a word of commemoration. In our judgment it is all an edition of Lamb's works should be. Upon the vexed question, nowadays so much agitated, whether an editor is to be allowed any discretion in the exclusion from his edition of the rinsings of his author's desk, we side with Mr. Ainger, and think more nobly of the editor than to deny him such a discretion. An editor is not a sweep, and, by the love he bears the author whose fame he seeks to spread abroad, it is his duty to exclude what he believes does not bear the due impress of the author's mind. No doubt as a rule editors have no discretion to be trusted; but happily Mr. Ainger has plenty, and most sincerely do we thank him for withholding from us A Vision of Horns and The Pawnbroker's Daughter. Boldly to assert, as some are found to do, that the editor of a master of style has no choice but to reprint the scraps or notelets that a misdirected energy may succeed in disinterring from the grave the writer had dug for them, is to fail to grasp the distinction between a collector of curios and a lover of books. But this policy of exclusion is no

doubt a perilous one. Like the Irish members, or Mark Antony's wife-the "shrill-toned Fulvia " -the missing essays are "good, being gone." Surely, so we are inclined to grumble, the taste was severe that led Mr. Ainger to dismiss Juke Judkins. We are not, indeed, prepared to say that Judkins has been wrongfully dismissed, or that he has any right of action against Mr. Ainger, but we could have put up better with his presence than his absence.

Mr. Ainger's introduction to the Essays of Elia is admirable; here is a bit of it:

Another feature of Lamb's style is its allusiveness. He is rich in quotations, and in my notes I have succeeded in tracing most of them to their source, a matter of some difficulty in Lamb's case, for his inaccuracy is all but perverse. But besides those avowedly introduced as such, his style is full of quotations held, if the expression may be allowed, in solution.

feels, rather than recognises, that a phrase or idiom or turn of expression is an echo of something that one has heard or read before. Yet such is the use made of the material, that a charm is added by the very fact that we are thus continually renewing our experience of an older day. This 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 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.

Then Mr. Ainger's notes are not meddlesome notes, but truly explanatory ones, genuine aids to enjoyment. Lamb needs notes, and yet the task of adding them to a structure so fine and of such nicely studied proportions is a difficult one; it is like building a tool-house against La Sainte Chapelle. Deftly has Mr. Ainger inserted his notes,

and capital reading do they make; they tell us all we ought to want to know. He is no true lover of Elia who does not care to know who the "Distant Correspondent" was. And Barbara S. "It was not much that Barbara had to claim." No, dear child! it was not "a bare half-guinea "; but you are surely also entitled to be known to us by your real name. When Lamb tells us Barbara's maiden name was Street, and that she was three times married-first to a Mr. Dancer, then to a Mr. Barry, and finally to a Mr. Crawford, whose widow she was when he first knew her-he is telling us things that were not, for the true Barbara was born a Kelly and died a spinster.

Mr. Ainger, as was to be expected, has a full, instructive note anent the Old Benchers of the Inner Temple. Some hasty editors, with a sorrowfully large experience of Lamb's unblushing fictions and Defoe-like falsehoods, and who, perhaps, have wasted good hours trying to find out all about Miss Barbara's third husband, have sometimes assumed that at all events most of the names mentioned by Lamb in his immortal essay on the Benchers are fictitious. Mr. Ainger, however, assures us that the fact is otherwise. Jekyl, Coventry, Pierson, Parton, Read, Wharry, Jackson, and Mingay, no less than "unruffled Samuel Salt," were all real persons, and were called to the Bench of the Honourable Society by those very names. One mistake, indeed, Lamb makes-he writes of Mr. Twopenny as if he had been a Bencher. Now there never yet was a Bencher of the name of Twopenny; though the mistake is easily accounted for. There was a Mr. Twopenny, a very thin man

« AnteriorContinuar »