Mary Lamb (1883)
by Anne Gilchrist
Chapter III.
2422914Mary Lamb — Chapter III.1883Anne Gilchrist


Death of Aunt Hetty.—Mary removed from the Asylum.—Charles Lloyd.—A Visit to Nether Stowey, and Introduction to Wordsworth and his Sister.—Anniversary of the Mother's Death.—Mary ill again. Estrangement between Lamb and Coleridge.—Speedy Reconcilement.

1797-1801.—Æt. 33-37.

Aunt Hetty did not find her expectations of a comfortable home realised under the roof of the wealthy gentlewoman, who proved herself a typical rich relation and wrote to Charles at the beginning of the new year that she found her aged cousin indolent and mulish, "and that her attachment to us" (he is telling Coleridge the tale, to whom he could unburthen his heart on all subjects, sure of sympathy) "is so strong that she can never be happy apart. The lady with delicate irony remarks that if I am not an hypocrite I shall rejoice to receive her again; and that it will be a means of making me more fond of home to have so dear a friend to come home to! The fact is, she is jealous of my aunt's bestowing any kind recollections on us while she enjoys the patronage of her roof. She says she finds it inconsistent with her own 'ease and tranquillity' to keep her any longer; and, in fine, summons me to fetch her home. Now, much as I should rejoice to transplant the poor old creature from the chilling air of such patronage, yet I know how straitened we are already, how unable already to answer any demand which sickness or any extraordinary expense may make. I know this; and all unused as I am to struggle with perplexities, I am somewhat nonplussed, to say no worse."

Hetty Lamb found a refuge and a welcome in the old humble home again. But she returned only to die; and Mary was not there to nurse her. She was still in the asylum at Islington; and was indeed herself at this time recovering from an attack of scarlet fever, or something akin to it.

Early in January 1797 Lamb wrote to Coleridge:—"You and Sara are very good to think so kindly and so favourably of poor Mary. I would to God all did so too. But I very much fear she must not think of coming home in my father's lifetime. It is very hard upon her, but our circumstances are peculiar and we must submit to them. God be praised she is so well as she is. She bears her situation as one who has no right to complain. My poor old aunt, whom you have seen, the kindest goodest creature to me when I was at school, who used to toddle there to bring me good things when I, school-boy like, only despised her for it, and used to be ashamed to see her come and sit herself down on the old coal-hole steps as you went into the old Grammar School and open her apron and bring out her basin with some nice thing she had caused to be saved for me,—the good old creature is now lying on her death-bed. I cannot bear to think on her deplorable state. To the shock she received on that our evil day from which she never completely recovered, I impute her illness. She says, poor thing, she is glad she is come home to die with me, I was always her favourite."

She lingered a month, and then went to occupy

". . . the same grave bed
Where the dead mother lies.
Oh, my dear mother! oh, thou dear dead saint!
Where's now that placid face, where oft hath sat
A mother's smile to think her son should thrive
In this bad world when she was dead and gone;
And where a tear hath sat (take shame, O son!)
When that same child has proved himself unkind.
One parent yet is left—a wretched thing,
A sad survivor of his buried wife,
A palsy-smitten childish old, old man,
A semblance most forlorn of what he was."

"I own I am thankful that the good creature has ended her days of suffering and infirmity," says Lamb to Coleridge. "Good God! who could have foreseen all this but four months back! I had reckoned, in particular, on my aunt's living many years; she was a very hearty old woman. . . . But she was a mere skeleton before she died; looked more like a corpse that had lain weeks in the grave than one fresh dead."

"I thank you; from my heart, I thank you," Charles again wrote to Coleridge, "for your solicitude about my sister. She is quite well, but must not, I fear, come to live with us yet a good while. In the first place, because it would hurt her and hurt my father for them to be together; secondly, from a regard to the world's good report; for I fear tongues will be busy whenever that event takes place. Some have hinted, one man has pressed it on me, that she should be in perpetual confinement. What she hath done to deserve, or the necessity of such an hardship I see not; do you?"

At length Lamb determined to grapple, on Mary's behalf, with the difficulties and embarrassments of the situation. "Painful doubts were suggested," says Talfourd, "by the authorities of the parish where the terrible occurrence happened, whether they were not bound to institute proceedings which must have placed her for life at the disposition of the Crown, especially as no medical assurance could be given against the probable recurrence of dangerous frenzy. But Charles came to her deliverance; he satisfied all the parties who had power to oppose her release, by his solemn engagement that he would take her under his care for life; and he kept his word. Whether any communication with the Home Secretary occurred before her release I have been unable to ascertain. It was the impression of Mr. Lloyd, from whom my own knowledge of the circumstances, which the letters do not contain was derived, that a communication took place, on which a similar pledge was given. At all events the result was that she left the asylum and took up her abode," not with her brother yet, but in lodgings near him and her father.

He writes to Coleridge, April 7th, 1797: "Lloyd may have told you about my sister. . . . If not, I have taken her out of her confinement, and taken a room for her at Hackney, and spend my Sundays, holidays, &c., with her. She boards herself. In a little half year's illness and in such an illness, of such a nature and of such consequences, to get her out into the world again, with a prospect of her never being so ill again, this is to be ranked not among the common blessings of Providence. May that merciful God make tender my heart and make me as thankful as, in my distress, I was earnest in my prayers. Congratulate me on an ever-present and never alienable friend like her, and do, do insert, if you have not lost, my dedication [to Mary]. It will have lost half its value by coming so late." And of another sonnet to her, which he desires to have inserted, he says: "I wish to accumulate perpetuating tokens of my affection to poor Mary."

Two events which brightened this sad year must not be passed over though Mary, the sharer of all her brother's joys and sorrows, had but an indirect participation in them. Just when he was most lonely and desolate at the close of the fatal year he had written to Coleridge: "I can only converse with you by letter, and with the dead in their books. My sister, indeed, is all I can wish in a companion; but our spirits are alike poorly, our reading and knowledge from the self-same sources, our communication with the scenes of the world alike narrow. Never having kept separate company or any 'company' together—never having read separate books and few books together, what knowledge have we to convey to each other? In our little range of duties and connections how few sentiments can take place without friends, with few books, with a taste for religion rather than a strong religious habit! We need some support, some leading-strings to cheer and direct us. You talk very wisely and be not sparing of your advice; continue to remember us and to show us you do remember; we will take as lively an interest in what concerns you and yours. All I can add to your happiness will be sympathy; you can add to mine more, you can teach me wisdom."

Quite suddenly, at the beginning of the new year, there came to break this solitude Charles Lloyd, whose poems were to company Lamb's own and Coleridge's in the forthcoming volume: a young man of quaker family who was living in close fellowship with that group of poets down in Somersetshire towards whom Lamb's eyes and heart were wistfully turned as afterwards were to be those of all lovers of literature. How deeply he was moved by this spontaneous seeking for his friendship on Lloyd's part, let a few lines from one of those early poems which, in their earnest simplicity and sincerity, are precious autobiographic fragments tell:—

Alone, obscure, without a friend,
A cheerless, solitary thing,
Why seeks my Lloyd the stranger out?
What offering can the stranger bring
Of social scenes, home-bred delights,
That him in aught compensate may
For Stowey's pleasant winter nights,
For loves and friendships far away?
***** For this a gleam of random joy,
Hath flush'd my unaccustom'd cheek,
And with an o'ercharged bursting heart
I feel the thanks I cannot speak.
O sweet are all the Muses' lays,
And sweet the charm of matin bird—
'Twas long since these estranged ears
The sweeter voice of friend had heard.

The next was a yet brighter gleam—a fortnight with Coleridge at Nether Stowey and an introduction to Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, forerunner of a lifelong friendship in which Mary was soon to share. The visit took place in the July of this same year 1797. The prospect of it had dangled tantalizingly before Charles' eyes for a year or more; and now at last his chiefs at the India House were propitious and he wrote: "May I, can I, shall I come so soon? . . . . I long, I yearn, with all the longings of a child do I desire to see you, to come among you, to see the young philosopher [Hartley, the poet's first child] to thank Sara for her last year's invitation in person, to read your tragedy, to read over together our little book, to breathe fresh air, to revive in me vivid images of 'Salutation scenery.' There is a sort of sacrilege in my letting such ideas slip out of my mind and memory. . . . Here I will leave off, for I dislike to fill up this paper (which involves a question so connected with my heart and soul) with meaner matter, or subjects to me less interesting. I can talk as I can think, nothing else."

Seldom has fate been kind enough to bring together, in those years of early manhood when friendships strike their deepest roots, just the very men who could give the best help, the warmest encouragement to each other's genius, whilst they were girding themselves for that warfare with the ignorance and dulness of the public which every original man has to wage for a longer or shorter time. Wordsworth was twenty-seven, Coleridge twenty-five, Lamb twenty-two. For Wordsworth was to come the longest, stiffest battle—fought, however, from the vantage ground of pecuniary independence, thanks to his simple frugal habits and to a few strokes of good fortune. His aspect in age is familiar to the readers of this generation, but less so the Wordsworth of the days when the Lyrical Ballads were just taking final shape. There was already a severe worn pressure of thought about the temples of his high yet somewhat narrow forehead and 'his eyes were fires, half smouldering, half burning, inspired, supernatural, with a fixed acrid gaze' as if he saw something in objects more than the outward appearance. 'His cheeks were furrowed by strong purpose and feeling, and there was a convulsive inclination to laughter about the mouth, a good deal at variance with the solemn, stately expression of the rest of his face.' Dressed in a brown fustian jacket and striped pantaloons, adds Hazlitt, who first saw him a few months later, he had something of a roll and lounge in his gait not unlike his own Peter Bell. He talked freely and naturally, with a mixture of clear gushing accents in his voice, a deep guttural intonation and a strong tincture of the northern burr, and when he recited one of his poems his voice lingered on the ear "like the roll of spent thunder."

But who could dazzle and win like Coleridge? Who could travel so far and wide through all the realms of thought and imagination, and pour out the riches he brought back in such free, full, melodious speech with that spontaneous "utterancy of heart and soul," which was his unique gift, in a voice whose tones were so sweet, ear and soul were alike ravished? For him the fight was not so much with the public which, Orpheus that he was, he could so easily have led captive, as with the flesh—weak health, a nerveless languor, a feeble will that never could combine and concentrate his forces for any sustained or methodical effort. Dorothy Wordsworth has described him as he looked in these days: "At first I thought him very plain—that is, for about three minutes—he is pale, thin, has a wide mouth, thick lips, and not very good teeth, longish loose-growing, half-curling, rough black hair (in both these respects a contrast to Wordsworth, who had, in his youth, beautiful teeth and light brown hair); but if you hear him speak for five minutes, you think no more of them. His eye is large and full and not very dark, but grey, such an eye as would receive from a heavy soul the dullest expression; but it speaks every emotion of his animated mind; it has more of the 'poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling' than I ever witnessed. He has fine dark eye-brows and an overhanging forehead." This was the very year that produced The Ancient Mariner, the first part of Christabel, and Kubla Khan.

To Charles Lamb the change from his restricted over-shadowed life in London—all day at a clerk's desk and in the evening a return to the Pentonville lodging with no other inmate than his poor old father, Sundays and holidays only spent with his sister to such companionship amid such scenes, almost dazed him, like stepping from a darkened room into the brilliant sunshine. Before he went he had written:—"I see nobody. I sit and read, or walk alone and hear nothing. I am quite lost to conversation from disuse; and out of the sphere of my little family (who, I am thankful, are dearer and dearer to me every day), I see no face that brightens up at my approach. My friends are at a distance. Worldly hopes are at a low ebb with me, and unworldly thoughts are unfamiliar to me, though I occasionally indulge in them. Still I feel a calm not unlike content. I fear it is sometimes more akin to physical stupidity than to a heaven-flowing serenity and peace. If I come to Stowey, what conversation can I furnish to compensate my friend for those stores of knowledge and of fancy, those delightful treasures of wisdom, which I know he will open to me? But it is better to give than to receive; and I was a very patient hearer and docile scholar in our winter evening meetings at Mr. May's, was I not Coleridge? What I have owed to thee my heari can ne'er forget."

Perhaps his friends, even Coleridge who knew him so well, realised as little as himself what was the true mental stature of the "gentle-hearted" and "wild-eyed boy" as they called him; whose opportunities and experience, save in the matter of strange calamity, had been so narrow compared to their own. The keen edge of his discernment as a critic, quick and piercing as those quick, piercing, restless eyes of his, they knew and prized yet could hardly, perhaps, divine that there were qualities in him which would freight his prose for a long voyage down the stream of time. But already they knew that within that small spare frame, "thin and wiry as an Arab of the desert," there beat a heroic heart, fit to meet the stern and painful exigencies of his lot; and that his love for his sister was of the same fibre as conscience—"a supreme embracer of consequences."

Dorothy Wordsworth was just such a friend and comrade to the poet as Mary was to Charles, sharing his passionate devotion to nature as Mary shared her brother's loves, whether for men or books or for the stir and throng of life in the great city. Alike were these two women in being as De Quincey said of Dorothy "the truest, most inevitable and, at the same time, the quickest and readiest in sympathy with either joy or sorrow, with laughter or with tears, with the realities of life, or the larger realities of the poets." But unlike in temperament; Dorothy ardent, fiery, trembling with eager impetuosity that embarrassed her utterance; Mary gentle, silent, or deliberate in speech. In after life, there was another sad similarity for Dorothy's reason, too, was in the end over-clouded. Coleridge has described her as she then was: "She is a woman indeed," said he, "in mind, I mean, and in heart; for her person is such that if you expected to see a pretty woman, you would think her ordinary; if you expected to see an ordinary woman, you would think her pretty; but her manners are simple, ardent, and impressive. In every motion her innocent soul outbeams so brightly, that who saw her would say 'guilt was a thing impossible with her.' Her information various, her eye watchful in minute observation of nature, and her taste a perfect electrometer."

An accident had lamed Coleridge the very morning after Lamb's arrival, so that he was unable to share his friends' walks. He turned his imprisonment to golden account by writing a poem which mirrors for us, as in a still lake, the beauty of the Quantock hills and vales where they were roaming, the scenes amid which these great and happy days of youth and poetry and friendship were passed. It is the very poem in the margin of which, eight and thirty years afterwards, Coleridge on his death-bed wrote down the sum of his love for Charles and Mary Lamb.


Well, they are gone, and here must I remain,
This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost
Beauties and feelings such as would have been
Most sweet to my remembrance even when age
Had dimmed mine eyes to blindness! They, meanwhile,
Friends whom I never more may meet again
On springy heath, along the hill-top edge
Wander in gladness and wind down, perchance,
To that still roaring dell of which I told;
The roaring dell, o'erwooded, narrow, deep,
And only speckled by the mid-day sun;
Where its slim trunk the ash, from rock to rock
Flings arching like a bridge;—that branchless ash,
Unsunned and damp, whose few poor yellow leaves
Ne'er tremble in the gale, yet tremble still,
Fanned by the water-fall! and there my friends
Behold the dark green file of long, lank weeds,
That all at once (a most fantastic sight!)
Still nod and drip beneath the dripping edge
Of the blue clay-stone.
Now, my friends emerge
Beneath the wide wide heaven—and view again
The many-steepled tract magnificent
Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea,
With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up
The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles
Of purple shadow! Yes! they wander on
In gladness all; but thou, methinks, most glad,
My gentle-hearted Charles! for thou hast pined
And hungered after Nature, many a year,
In the great City pent, winning thy way
With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain
And strange calamity! Ah! slowly sink
Behind the western ridge, thou glorious sun!
Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb,
Te purple heath-flowers! richlier burn ye clouds!
Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves!
And kindle, thou blue ocean! So my Friend,
Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood,
Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round
On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem
Less gross than bodily; and of such hues
As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes
Spirits perceive His presence. . . .

On Lamb's return, he wrote in the same modest vein as before—

"I am scarcely yet so reconciled to the loss of you or so subsided into my wonted uniformity of feeling as to sit calmly down to think of you and write. . . . Is the patriot [Thelwall] come? Are Wordsworth and his sister gone yet? I was looking out for John Thelwall all the way from Bridgewater and had I met him I think it would have moved me almost to tears. You will oblige me, too, by sending me my great-coat which I left behind in the oblivious state the mind is thrown into at parting. Is it not ridiculous that I sometimes envy that great-coat lingering so cunningly behind! At present I have none; so send it me by a Stowey waggon if there be such a thing, directing it for C. L., No. 45, Chapel, Street, Pentonville, near London. But above all, that inscription [of Wordsworth's]. It will recall to me the tones of all your voices, and with them many a remembered kindness to one who could and can repay you all only by the silence of a grateful heart. I could not talk much while I was with you but my silence was not sullenness nor I hope from any bad motive; but in truth, disuse has made me awkward at it. I know I behaved myself, particularly at Tom Poole's and at Cruikshank's most like a sulky child; but company and converse are strange to me. It was kind in you all to endure me as you did.

"Are you and your dear Sara—to me also very dear because very kind—agreed yet about the management of little Hartley? And how go on the little rogue's teeth?"

The mention of his address in the foregoing letter, shows that Lamb and his father had already quitted Little Queen Street. It is probable that they did so, indeed, immediately after the great tragedy; to escape, not only from the painful associations of the spot but also from the cruel curiosity which its terrible notoriety must have drawn upon them. The season was coming round which could not but renew his and Mary's grief and anguish in the recollection of that "day of horrors." "Friday next, Coleridge," he writes, "is the day (September 22nd) on which my mother died;" and ill the letter is enclosed that beautiful and affecting poem beginning:—

Alas! how am I changed? Where be the tears,
The sobs, and forced suspensions of the breath,

And all the dull desertions of the heart,
With which I hung o'er my dead mother's corse?
Where be the blest subsidings of the storm
Within? The sweet resignedness of hope
Drawn heavenward, and strength of filial love
In which I bowed me to my Father's will?

Mary's was a silent grief. But those few casual pathetic words written years afterwards speak her life-long sorrow,—"my dear mother who, though you do not know it, is always in my poor head and heart." She continued quiet in her lodgings, free from relapse till toward the end of the year.

On the 10th December Charles wrote in bad spirits,—"My teasing lot makes me too confused for a clear judgment of things; too selfish for sympathy. . . . My sister is pretty well, thank God. We think of you very often. God bless you. Continue to be my correspondent, and I will strive to fancy that this world is not 'all barrenness.'"

But by Christmas Day she was once more in the asylum. In sad solitude he gave utterance, again in verse form, to his overflowing grief and love:—

I am a widow'd thing now thou art gone!
Now thou art gone, my own familiar friend,
Companion, sister, helpmate, counsellor!
Alas! that honour'd mind whose sweet reproof
And meekest wisdom in times past have smooth'd
The unfilial harshness of my foolish speech,
And made me loving to my parents old
(Why is this so, ah God! why is this so?)
That honour'd mind become a fearful blank,
Her senses lock'd up, and herself kept out
From human sight or converse, while so many
Of the foolish sort are left to roam at large,
Doing all acts of folly and sin and shame?
Thy paths are mystery!
Yet I will not think
Sweet friend, but we shall one day meet and live
In quietness and die so, fearing God.
Or if not, and these false suggestions be
A fit of the weak nature, loth to part
With what it loved so long and held so dear;
If thou art to be taken and I left
(More sinning, yet unpunish'd save in thee,)
It is the will of God, and we are clay
In the potter's hand; and at the worst are made
From absolute nothing, vessels of disgrace,
Till His most righteous purpose wrought in us,
Our purified spirits find their perfect rest.

To add to these sorrows Coleridge had, for some time, been growing negligent as a correspondent. So early as April Lamb had written, after affectionate enquiries for Hartley "the minute philosopher" and Hartley's mother,—"Coleridge, I am not trifling, nor are these matter-of-fact questions only. You are all very dear and precious to me. Do what you will, Coleridge, you may hurt and vex me by your silence but you cannot estrange my heart from you all. I cannot scatter friendships like chuck-farthings, nor let them drop from mine hand like hour-glass sand. I have but two or three people in the world to whom I am more than indifferent and I can't afford to whistle them off to the winds."

And again, three months after his return from Stowey, he wrote sorrowfully almost plaintively, remonstrating for Lloyd's sake and his own:—

"You use Lloyd very ill, never writing to him. I tell you again that his is not a mind with which you should play tricks. He deserves more tenderness from you. For myself, I must spoil a little passage of Beaumont and Fletcher's to adapt it to my feelings:

I am prouder
That I was once your friend, tho' now forgot,
Than to have had another true to me.

If you don't write to me now, as I told Lloyd, I shall get angry and call you hard names—'Manchineel'" (alluding to a passage in a poem of Coleridge's, where he compares a false friend to the treacherous manchineel tree[1] which mingles its own venom with the rain and poisons him who rests beneath its shade) "and I don't know what else. I wish you would send me my great-coat. The snow and the rain season is at hand and I have but a wretched old coat, once my father's, to keep 'em off and that is transitory.

When time drives flocks from field to fold,
When ways grow foul and blood gets cold,

I shall remember where I left my coat. Meet emblem wilt thou be, old Winter, of a friend's neglect—cold, cold, cold!"

But this fresh stroke of adversity, sweeping away the fond hope Charles had begun to cherish that "Mary would never be so ill again," roused his friend's sometimes torpid but deep and enduring affection for him into action. "You have writ me many kind letters, and I have answered none of them," says Lamb, on the 28th of January 1798. "I don't deserve your attentions. An unnatural indifference has been creeping on me since my last misfortunes or I should have seized the first opening of a correspondence with you. These last afflictions, Coleridge, have failed to soften and bend my will. They found me unprepared. . . . I have been very querulous, impatient under the rod—full of little jealousies and heart-burnings. I had well-nigh quarrelled with Charles Lloyd; and for no other reason, I believe, than that the good creature did all he could to make me happy. The truth is I thought he tried to force my mind from its natural and proper bent. He continually wished me to be from home; he was drawing me from the consideration of my poor dear Mary's situation rather than assisting me to gain a proper view of it with religious consolations. I wanted to be left to the tendency of my own mind in a solitary state which in times past, I knew, had led to quietness and a patient bearing of the yoke. He was hurt that I was not more constantly with him; but he was living with White (Jem White, an old schoolfellow, author of Falstaff's Letters), a man to whom I had never been accustomed to impart my dearest feelings though, from long habits of friendliness and many a social and good quality, I loved him very much. I met company there sometimes, indiscriminate company. Any society almost, when I am in affliction, is sorely painful to me. I seem to breathe more freely, to think more collectedly, to feel more properly and calmly when alone. All these things the good creature did with the kindest intentions in the world but they produced in me nothing but soreness and discontent. I became, as he complained, 'jaundiced' towards him . . . but he has forgiven me; and his smile, I hope, will draw all such humours from me. I am recovering, God be praised for it, a healthiness of mind, something like calmness; but I want more religion. . . . Mary is recovering; but I see no opening yet of a situation for her. Your invitation went to my very heart; but you have a power of exciting interest, of leading all hearts captive, too forcible to admit of Mary's being with you. I consider her as perpetually on the brink of madness. I think you would almost make her dance within an inch of the precipice: she must be with duller fancies and cooler intellects. I know a young man of this description, who has suited her these twenty years, and may live to do so still, if we are one day restored to each other."

But the clouds gathered up again between the friends, generated partly by a kind of intellectual arrogance whereof Coleridge afterwards accused himself (he was often but too self-depreciatory in after life) which, in spite of Lamb's generous and unbounded admiration for his friend, did at last both irritate and hurt him; still more by the influence of Lloyd who, himself slighted as he fancied, and full of a morbid sensitiveness "bordering on derangement," sometimes indeed overleaping that border, worked upon Lamb's soreness of feeling till a brief estrangement ensued. Lamb had not yet learned to be on his guard with Lloyd. Years afterwards he wrote of him to Coleridge: "He is a sad tattler; but this is under the rose. Twenty years ago he estranged one friend from me quite, whom I have been regretting, but never could regain since. He almost alienated you also from me or me from you, I don't know which: but that breach is closed. The 'dreary sea' is filled up. He has lately been at work 'telling again,' as they call it, a most gratuitous piece of mischief, and has caused a coolness betwixt me and (not a friend but) an intimate acquaintance. I suspect, also, he saps Manning's faith in me who am to Manning more than an acquaintance."

The breach was closed, indeed, almost as soon as opened. But Coleridge went away to Germany for fourteen months and the correspondence was meanwhile suspended. When it was resumed Lamb was, in some respects, an altered man; he was passing from youth to maturity, enlarging the circle of his acquaintance and entering on more or less continuous literary work; whilst, on the other hand, the weaknesses which accompanied the splendid endowments of his friend were becoming but too plainly apparent; and though they never for a moment lessened Lamb's affection, nay, with his fine humanity seemed to give rather an added tenderness to it, there was inevitably a less deferential, a more humorous and playful tone on his side in their intercourse. "Bless you, old sophist who, next to human nature, taught me all the corruption I was capable of knowing," says he to the poet-philosopher by-and-by. And the weak side of his friend's style, too, received an occasional sly thrust; as for instance when on forwarding him some books he writes in 1800 "I detained Statius wilfully, out of a reverent regard to your style. Statius they tell me is turgid."

  1. Hippomane Mancinella, one of the Euphorbiaceæ, a native of South America.