Mary Lamb (Gilchrist 1883)/Chapter 11

Mary Lamb  (1883)  by Anne Gilchrist
Chapter XI.

CHAPTER XI.

The Hazlitts again.—Letters to Mrs. Hazlitt, and Two Visits to- Winterslow.—Birth of Hazlitt's Son.

1808-13.—Æt. 44-49.

Hazlitt and his Bride had, for the present, settled down in Sarah's cottage at Winterslow; so Mary continued to send them every now and then a pretty budget of gossip:—

"Dec. 10, 1808.

"I hear of you from your brother, but you do not write yourself, nor does Hazlitt. I beg that one or both of you will amend this fault as speedily as possible, for I am very anxious to hear of your health.... You cannot think how very much we miss you and H. of a Wednesday evening. All the glory of the night, I may say, is at an end. Phillips makes his jokes, and there is none to applaud him; Rickman argues, and there is no one to oppose him. The worst miss of all to me is that, when we are in the dismals, there is now no hope of relief from any quarter whatsoever. Hazlitt was most brilliant, most ornamental as a Wednesday-man; but he was a more useful one on common days, when he dropt in after a quarrel or a fit of the glooms. The Sheffington is quite out now, my brother having got drunk with claret and Tom Sheridan. This visit and the occasion of it is a profound secret, and therefore I tell it to nobody but you and Mrs. Reynolds. Through the medium of Wroughton, there came an invitation and proposal from T. S. that C. L. should write some scenes in a speaking Pantomime, the other parts of which Tom now, and his father formerly, have manufactured between them. So, in the Christmas holidays, my brother and his two great associates, we expect, will be all three damned together, that is, I mean, if Charles' share, which is done and sent in, is accepted.

"I left this unfinished yesterday in the hope that my brother would have done it for me; his reason for refusing me was 'no exquisite reason'; for it was because he must write a letter to Manning in three or four weeks, and therefore he could not be always writing letters, he said. I wanted him to tell your husband about a great work which Godwin is going to publish, [an Essay on Sepulchres] to enlighten the world once more, and I shall not be able to make out what it is. He (Godwin) took his usual walk one evening, a fortnight since, to the end of Hatton Garden and back again. During that walk a thought came into his mind which he instantly set down and improved upon till he brought it, in seven or eight days, into the compass of a reasonable sized pamphlet. To propose a subscription to all well-disposed people to raise a certain sum of money, to be expended in the care of a cheap monument for the former and the future great dead men—the monument to be a white cross with a wooden slab at the end, telling their names and qualifications. This wooden slab and white cross to be perpetuated to the end of time. To survive the fall of empires and the destruction of cities by means of a map which was, in case of an insurrection among the people, or any other cause by which a city or country may be destroyed, to be carefully preserved, and then when things got again into their usual order, the white-cross-wooden-slab-makers were to go to work again and set them in their former places. This, as nearly as I can tell you, is the sum and substance of it; but it is written remarkably well, in his very best manner, for the proposal (which seems to me very like throwing salt on a sparrow's tail to catch him) occupies but half a page, which is followed by very fine writing on the benefits he conjectures would follow if it were done. Very excellent thoughts on death and on our feelings concerning dead friends and the advantages an old country has over a new one, even in the slender memorials we have of great men who once flourished.

"Charles is come home and wants his dinner, and so the dead men must be no more thought on. Tell us how you go on and how you like Winterslow and winter evenings. Noales (Knowles) has not got back again, but he is in better spirits. John Hazlitt was here on Wednesday, very sober. Our love to Hazlitt.

"There came this morning a printed prospectus from S. T. Coleridge, Grasmere, of a weekly paper to be called The Friend—a flaming Prospectus—I have no time to give the heads of it—to commence first Saturday in January. There came also a notice of a Turkey from Mr. Clarkson, which I am more sanguine in expecting the accomplishment of than I am of Coleridge's prophecy."

A few weeks after the date of this letter Sarah had a little son. He lived but six months; just long enough for his father's restless, dissatisfied heart to taste for once the sweetness of a tie unalloyed with any bitterness, and the memory of it never faded out. There is a pathetic allusion in one of his latest essays to a visit to the neglected spot where the baby was laid, and where still "as the nettles wave in a corner of the churchyard over his little grave, the welcome breeze helps to refresh me and ease the tightness at my breast."

In March of this year, too, died one of the most conspicuous members of Lamb's circle, Thomas Holcroft; dear to Godwin, but not, perhaps, a great favourite with the Lambs. He was too dogmatic and disputatious, a man who would pull you up at every turn for a definition, which, as Coleridge said, was like setting up perpetual turnpikes along the road to truth. Hazlitt undertook to write his life.

The visit to Winterslow which had been so often talked of before Sarah's marriage was again under discussion and, on June 2nd, Mary, full of thoughtful consideration for her hosts that were to be, writes jointly with Martin Burney:—

"'You may write to Hazlitt that I will certainly go to Winterslow, as my father has agreed to give me £5 to bear my expences, and has given leave that I may stop till that is spent, leaving enough to defray my carriage on 14th July.'

"So far Martin has written, and further than that I can give you no intelligence, for I do not yet know Phillips' intentions; nor can I tell you the exact time when we can come; nor can I positively say we shall come at all; for we have scruples of conscience about there being so many of us. Martin says if you can borrow a blanket or two he can sleep on the floor without either bed or mattress, which would save his expenses at the Hut; for if Phillips breakfasts there he must do so too, which would swallow up all his money. And he and I have calculated that if he has no inn expenses he may as well spare that money to give you for a part of his roast beef. We can spare you also just five pounds. You are not to say this to Hazlitt, lest his delicacy should be alarmed; but I tell you what Martin and I have planned that if you happed to be empty-pursed at this time, you may think it as well to make him up a bed in the best kitchen. I think it very probable that Phillips will come, and if you do not like such a crowd of us, for they both talk of staying a whole month, tell me so, and we will put off our visit till next summer.

"Thank you very much for the good work you have done for me. Mrs. Stoddart also thanks you for the gloves. How often must I tell you never to do any needlework for anybody but me? . . . .

"I cannot write any more, for we have got a noble life of Lord Nelson, lent us for a short time by my poor relation the bookbinder, and I want to read as much of it as I can."

The death of the baby and one of Mary's severe attacks of illness combined to postpone the visit till autumn; but, when it did come to pass, it completely restored her, and left lasting remembrance of its pleasures both with hosts and guests. Charles tells Coleridge (Oct. 30): "The journey has been of infinite service to Mary. We have had nothing but sunshiny days, and daily walks from eight to twenty miles a day. Have seen Wilton, Salisbury, Stonehenge, &c. Her illness lasted just six weeks; it left her weak, but the country has made us whole."

And Mary herself wrote to Sarah (Nov. 7): "The dear, quiet, lazy, delicious month we spent with you is remembered by me with such regret that I feel quite discontented and Winterslow-sick. I assure you I never passed such a pleasant time in the country in my life, both in the house and out of it, the card-playing quarrels, and a few gaspings for breath after your swift footsteps up the high hills excepted, and those drawbacks are not unpleasant in the recollection. We have got some salt butter to make our toast seem like yours, and we have tried to eat meat suppers, but that would not do, for we left our appetites behind us; and the dry loaf which offended you now comes in at night unaccompanied; but sorry I am to add, it is soon followed by the pipe and the gin-bottle. We smoked the very first night of our arrival.

"Great news! I have just been interrupted by Mr. Dawe, who comes to tell me he was yesterday elected an Academician. He said none of his own friends voted for him; he got it by strangers who were pleased with his picture of Mrs. White. Charles says he does not believe Northcote ever voted for the admission of any one. Though a very cold day, Dawe was in a prodigious sweat for joy at his good fortune.

"More great news! My beautiful green curtains were put up yesterday, and all the doors listed with green baize, and four new boards put to the coal-hole, and fastening hasps put to the window, and my died Manning silk cut out.

"Yesterday was an eventful day, for yesterday, too, Martin Burney was to be examined by Lord Eldon, previous to his being admitted as an attorney; but he has not been here yet to announce his success.

"I carried the baby-caps to Mrs. John Hazlitt. She was much pleased and vastly thankful. Mr. H. got fifty-four guineas at Rochester, and has now several pictures in hand.

"I am going to tell you a secret, for——says she would be sorry to have it talked of. One night ——came home from the ale-house, bringing with him a great rough, ill-looking fellow, whom he introduced——to as Mr. Brown, a gentleman he had hired as a mad-keeper to take care of him at forty pounds a year, being ten pounds under the usual price for keepers, which sum Mr. Brown had agreed to remit out of pure friendship. It was with great difficulty and by threatening to call in the aid of a watchman and constables that—— could prevail on Mr. Brown to leave the house.

"We had a good chearful meeting on Wednesday; much talk of Winterslow, its woods and its nice sunflowers. I did not so much like Phillips at Winterslow as I now like him for having been with us at Winterslow. We roasted the last of his 'beach of oily nut prolific' on Friday at the Captain's. Nurse is now established in Paradise, alias the incurable ward of Westminster Hospital. I have seen her sitting in most superb state, surrounded by her seven incurable companions. They call each other ladies. Nurse looks as if she would be considered as the first lady in the ward; only one seemed like to rival her in dignity.

"A man in the India House has resigned, by which Charles will get twenty pounds a year, and White has prevailed upon him to write some more lottery puffs. If that ends in smoke, the twenty pounds is a sure card, and has made us very joyful. I continue very well and return you my sincere thanks for my good health and improved looks, which have almost made Mrs. Godwin die with envy; she longs to come to Winterslow as much as the spiteful elder sister did to go to the well for a gift to spit diamonds.

"Jane and I have agreed to boil a round of beef for your suppers when you come to town again. She, Jane, broke two of the Hogarth glasses while we were away; whereat I made a great noise.

"Farewell. Love to William, and Charles' love and good wishes for the speedy arrival of the Life of Holcroft and the bearer thereof . Charles told Mrs. Godwin Hazlitt had found a well in his garden which, water being scarce in your country, would bring him in two hundred a year; and she came in great haste the next morning to ask me if it were true."

Hazlitt, too, remembered to the end of his life those golden autumn days; "Lamb among the villagers like the most capricious poet Ovid among the Goths;" the evening walks with him and Mary to look at 'the Claude Lorraine skies melting from azure into purple and gold, and to gather mushrooms that sprung up at our feet to throw into our hashed mutton at supper.'

When Lamb called to congratulate Mr. Dawe on his good fortune his housekeeper seemed embarrassed, owned that her master was alone, but ushered in the visitor with reluctance. For why? "At his easel stood D. with an immense spread of canvas before him, and by his side—a live goose. Under the rose he informed me that he had undertaken to paint a transparency for Vauxhall, against an expected visit of the Allied Sovereigns. I smiled at an engagement so derogatory to his new-born honours; but a contempt of small gains was never one of D.'s foibles. My eyes beheld crude forms of warriors, kings rising under his brush upon this interminable stretch of cloth. The Volga, the Don, the Dnieper were there, or their representative river gods, and Father Thames clubbed urns with the Vistula. Glory with her dazzling eagle was not absent, nor Fame nor Victory. The shade of Rubens might have evoked the mighty allegories. But what was the goose? He was evidently sitting for a something. D. at last informed me that he could not introduce the Royal Thames without his swans. That he had inquired the price of a live swan, and it being more than he was prepared to give for it, he had bargained with the poulterer for the next thing to it, adding significantly that it would do to roast after it had served its turn to paint swans by." (Lamb's Recollections of a Royal Academician.)

The following year the visit to Winterslow was repeated, but not with the same happy results. In a letter written during his stay to Mr. Basil Montague Charles says: "My head has received such a shock by an all-night journey on the top of the coach that I shall have enough to do to nurse it into its natural pace before I go home. I must devote myself to imbecility; I must be gloriously useless while I stay here. The city of Salisbury is full of weeping and wailing. The bank has stopped payment, and everybody in the town kept money at it or has got some of its notes. Some have lost all they had in the world. It is the next thing to seeing a city with the plague within its walls; and I do suppose it to be the unhappiest county in England this, where I am making holiday. We purpose setting out for Oxford Tuesday fortnight, and coming thereby home. But no more night-travelling; my head is sore (understand it of the inside) with that deduction from my natural rest which I suffered coming down. Neither Mary nor I can spare a morsel of our rest, it is incumbent on us to be misers of it."

The visit to Oxford was paid, Hazlitt accompanying them and much enhancing the enjoyment of it, especially of a visit to the picture gallery at Blenheim. "But our pleasant excursion has ended sadly for one of us," he tells Hazlitt on his return. "My sister got home very well (I was very ill on the journey) and continued so till Monday night, when her complaint came on, and she is now absent from home. I think I shall be mad if I take any more journeys with two experiences against it. I have lost all wish for sights."

It was a long attack; at the end of October Mary was still "very weak and low-spirited," and there were domestic misadventures not calculated to improve matters.

"We are in a pickle," says Charles to Wordsworth. "Mary, from her affectation of physiognomy, has hired a stupid, big, country wench, who looked honest as she thought, and has been doing her work some days, but without eating; and now it comes out that she was ill when she came, with lifting her mother about (who is now with God) when she was dying, and with riding up from Norfolk four days and nights in the waggon, and now she lies in her bed a dead weight upon our humanity, incapable of getting up, refusing to go to an hospital, having nobody in town but a poor asthmatic uncle, and she seems to have made up her mind to take her flight to heaven from our bed. Oh for the little wheelbarrow which trundled the hunchback from door to door to try the various charities of different professions of mankind! Here's her uncle just crawled up, he is far liker death than she. In this perplexity such topics as Spanish papers and Monkhouses sink into insignificance. What shall we do?"

The perplexity seems to have cleared itself up somehow speedily, for in a week's time Mary herself wrote to Mrs. Hazlitt, not very cheerfully, but with no allusion to this particular disaster:—

"Nov. 30, 1810.

"I have taken a large sheet of paper, as if I were going to write a long letter; but that is by no means my intention, for I have only time to write three lines to notify what I ought to have done the moment I received your welcome letter; namely, that I shall be very much joyed to see you. Every morning lately I have been expecting to see you drop in, even before your letter came; and I have been setting my wits to work to think how to make you as comfortable as the nature of our inhospitable habits will admit. I must work while you are here, and I have been slaving very hard to get through with something before you come, that I may be quite in the way of it, and not teize you with complaints all day that I do not know what to do.

"I am very sorry to hear of your mischance. Mrs. Rickman has just buried her youngest child. I am glad I am an old maid, for you see there is nothing but misfortunes in the marriage state. Charles was drunk last night, and drunk the night before; which night before was at Godwin's, where we went, at a short summons from Mr. G., to play a solitary rubber, which was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. and little Mrs. Liston; and after them came Henry Robinson, who is now domesticated at Mr. Godwin's fireside, and likely to become a formidable rival to Tommy Turner. We finished there at twelve o'clock, Charles and Liston brim full of gin and water and snuff, after which Henry Robinson spent a long evening by our fireside at home, and there was much gin and water drunk, albeit only one of the party partook of it, and H. R. professed himself highly indebted to Charles for the useful information he gave him on sundry matters of taste and imagination, even after Charles could not speak plain for tipsiness. But still he swallowed the flattery and the spirits as savourily as Robinson did his cold water.

"Last night was to be a night, but it was not. There was a certain son of one of Martin's employers, one young Mr. Blake, to do whom honour Mrs. Burney brought forth, first rum, then a single bottle of champaine, long kept in her secret hoard; then two bottles of her best currant wine, which she keeps for Mrs. Rickman, came out; and Charles partook liberally of all these beverages, while Mr. Young Blake and Mr. Ireton talked of high matters, such as the merits of the Whip Club, and the merits of red and white champaine. Do I spell that last word right? Rickman was not there, so Ireton had it all his own way.

"The alternating Wednesdays will chop off one day in the week from your jolly days, and I do not know how we shall make it up to you, but I will contrive the best I can. Phillips comes again pretty regularly, to the great joy of Mrs Reynolds. Once more she hears the well-loved sounds of 'How do you do, Mrs. Reynolds? and how does Miss Chambers do?'

"I have spun out my three lines amazingly; now for family news. Your brother's little twins are not dead, but Mrs. John Hazlitt and her baby may be for anything I know to the contrary, for I have not been there for a prodigious long time. Mrs. Holcroft still goes about from Nicholson to Tuthill, and Tuthill to Godwin, and from Godwin to Nicholson, to consult on the publication or no publication of the life of the good man, her husband. It is called The Life Everlasting. How does that same Life go on in your parts? Goodbye, God bless you. I shall be glad to see you when you come this way.

"I am going in great haste to see Mrs. Clarkson, for I must get back to dinner, which I have hardly time to do. I wish that dear, good, amiable woman would go out of town. I thought she was clean gone, and yesterday there was a consultation of physicians held at her house to see if they could keep her among them here a few weeks longer."

The concluding volumes of this same Life Everlasting remained unprinted somewhere in a damp hamper, Mr. Carew Hazlitt tells us: for, in truth, the admirable fragment of autobiography Holcroft dictated on his death-bed contained the cream of the matter, and was all the public cared to listen to. Mary continuing "in a feeble and tottering condition," Charles found it needful to make a decisive stand on her behalf against the exhaustion and excitement of incessant company, and especially against the disturbed rest, which resulted from sharing her room with a guest.

"Nov. 28, 1810.

"Mary has been very ill indeed since you saw her," he wrote to Hazlitt, "as ill as she can be to remain at home. But she is a good deal better now, owing to a very careful regimen. She drinks nothing but water, and never goes out; she does not even go to the Captain's. Her indisposition has been ever since that night you left town, the night Miss Wordsworth came. Her coming, and that d———d Mrs. Godwin coming and staying so late that night so overset her that she lay broad awake all that night, and it was by a miracle that she escaped a very bad illness, which I thoroughly expected. I have made up my mind that she shall never have any one in the house again with her, and that no one shall sleep with her, not even for a night; for it is a very serious thing to be always living with a kind of fever upon her, and therefore I am sure you will take it in good part if I say that if Mrs. Hazlitt comes to town at any time, however glad we shall be to see her in the day-time, I cannot ask her to spend a night under our roof. Some decision we must come to; for the harassing fever that we have both been in, owing to Miss Wordsworth's coming, is not to be borne, and I would rather be dead than so alive. However, owing to a regimen and medicines which Tuthill has given her, who very kindly volunteered the care of her, she is a great deal quieter, though too much harassed by company, who cannot or will not see how late hours and Society teaze her."

The next letter to Sarah is a cheerful one, as the occasion demanded. It is also the last to her that has been preserved, probably the last that was written; for, a few months later, Hazlitt fairly launched himself on a literary career in London, and took up his abode next door to Jeremy Bentham, at 19 York Street, Westminster,—once Milton's house.

"Oct. 2, 1811.

"I lave been a long time anxiously expecting the happy news that I have just received. I address you because, as the letter has been lying some days at the India House, I hope you are able to sit up and read my congratulations on the little live boy you have been so many years wishing for. As we old women say, 'May he live to be a great comfort to you!' I never knew an event of the kind that gave me so much pleasure as the little long-looked-for-come-at-last's arrival; and I rejoice to hear his honour has begun to suck. The word was not distinctly written, and I was a long time making out the solemn fact. I hope to hear from you soon, for I am anxious to know if your nursing labours are attended with any difficulties. I wish you a happy getting-up and a merry christening!

"Charles sends his love; perhaps, though, he will write a scrap to Hazlitt at the end. He is now looking over me. He is always in my way, for he has had a month's holiday at home. But I an happy to say they end on Monday, when mine begin, for I am going to pass a week at Richmond with Mrs. Burney. She has been dying, but she went to the Isle of Wight and recovered once more, and she is finishing her recovery at Richmond. When there, I mean to read novels and play at Piquet all day long."

"My blessing and heaven's be upon him,' added Charles, "and make him like his father, with something a better temper and a smoother head of hair, and then all the men and women must love him." . . . .