Correspondence with Sarah Stoddart.—Hazlitt.—A Courtship and Wedding at which Mary is Bridesmaid.
To return to domestic affairs, as faithfully reported to Sarah by Mary whilst the Tales were in progress:—
"May 14, 1806.
"No intention of forfeiting my promise, but want of time has prevented me from continuing my journal. You seem pleased with the long stupid one I sent, and, therefore, I shall certainly continue to write at every opportunity. The reason why I have not had any time to spare is because Charles has given himself some hollidays after the hard labour of finishing his farce; and, therefore, I have had none of the evening leisure I promised myself. Next week he promises to go to work again. I wish he may happen to hit upon some new plan to his mind for another farce [Mr. H. was accepted, but not yet brought out]. When once begun, I do not fear his perseverance, but the hollidays he has allowed himself I fear will unsettle him. I look forward to next week with the same kind of anxiety I did to the new lodging. We have had, as you know, so many teazing anxieties of late, that I have got a kind of habit of foreboding that we shall never be comfortable, and that he will never settle to work, which I know is wrong, and which I will try with all my might to overcome; for certainly if I could but see things as they really are, our prospects are considerably improved since the memorable day of Mrs. Fenwick's last visit. I have heard nothing of that good lady or of the Fells since you left us.
"We have been visiting a little to Norris's, Godwin's, and last night we did not come home from Captain Burney's till two o'clock; the Saturday night was changed to Friday, because Rickman could not be there to-night. We had the best tea things, and the litter all cleared away, and everything as handsome as possible, Mrs. Rickman being of the party. Mrs. Rickman is much increased in size since we saw her last, and the alteration in her strait shape wonderfully improves her. Phillips was there, and Charles had a long batch of cribbage with him, and upon the whole we had the most chearful evening I have known there a long time. To-morrow we dine at Holcroft's. These things rather fatigue me; but I look for a quiet week next week, and hope for better times. We have had Mrs. Brooks and all the Martins, and we have likewise been there, so that I seem to have been in a continual bustle lately. I do not think Charles cares so much for the Martins as he did, which is a fact you will be glad to hear, though you must not name them when you write; always remember when I tell you anything about them, not to mention their names in return.
"We have had a letter from your brother by the same mail as yours I suppose; he says he does not mean to return till summer, and that is all he says about himself; his letter being entirely filled with a long story about Lord Nelson—but nothing more than what the papers have been full of—such as his last words, &c. Why does he tease you with so much good advice; is it merely to fill up his letters, as he filled ours with Lord Nelson's exploits? or has any new thing come out against you? Has he discovered Mr. Curse-a-rat's correspondence? I hope you will not write to that news-sending gentleman any more. I promised never more to give my advice, but one may be allowed to hope a little; and I also hope you will have something to tell me soon about Mr. White. Have you seen him yet? I am sorry to hear your mother is not better, but I am in a hoping humour just now, and I cannot help hoping that we shall all see happier days. The bells are just now ringing for the taking of the Cape of Good Hope.
"I have written to Mrs. Coleridge to tell her that her husband is at Naples. Your brother slightly named his being there, but he did not say that he had heard from him himself. Charles is very busy at the office; he will be kept there to-day till seven or eight o'clock; and he came home very smoky and drinky last night, so that I am afraid a hard day's work will not agree very well with him.
"O dear! what shall I say next? Why, this I will say next, that I wish you was with me; I have been eating a mutton chop all alone, and I have just been looking in the pint porter-pot which I find quite empty, and yet I am still very dry. If you was with me, we would have a glass of brandy and water; but it is quite impossible to drink brandy and water by one's-self; therefore, I must wait with patience till the kettle boils. I hate to drink tea alone, it is worse than dining alone. We have got a fresh cargo of biscuits from Captain Burney's. I have——
"May 14.—Here I was interrupted, and a long, tedious interval has intervened, during which I have had neither time nor inclination to write a word. The lodging, that pride of your heart and mine, is given up, and here he is again—Charles, I mean—as unsettled and undetermined as ever. When he went to the poor lodging after the holidays I told you he had taken, he could not endure the solitariness of them, and I had no rest for the sole of my foot till I promised to believe his solemn protestations that he could and would write as well at home as there. Do you believe this?
"I have no power over Charles; he will do what he will do. But I ought to have some little influence over myself; and, therefore, I am most manfully resolving to turn over a new leaf with my own mind. Your visit, though not a very comfortable one to yourself, has been of great use to me. I set you up in my fancy as a kind of thing that takes an interest in my concerns; and I hear you talking to me, and arguing the matter very learnedly when I give way to despondency. You shall hear a good account of me and the progress I make in altering my fretful temper to a calm and quiet one. It is but once being thorowly convinced one is wrong, to make one resolve to do so no more; and I know my dismal faces have been almost as great a drawback upon Charles's comfort, as his feverish, teazing ways have been upon mine. Our love for each other has been the torment of our lives hitherto. I am most seriously intending to bend the whole force of my mind to counteract this, and I think I see some prospect of success.
"Of Charles ever bringing any work to pass at home, I am very doubtful; and of the farce succeeding, I have little or no hope; but if I could once get into the way of being myself, I should see an easy remedy in leaving town and living cheaply, almost wholly alone; but till I do find we really are comfortable alone, and by ourselves, it seems a dangerous experiment. We shall certainly stay where we are till after next Christmas; and in the meantime, as I told you before, all my whole thoughts shall be to change myself into just such a soul as you would be in a lone house, with no companion but your brother, if you had nothing to vex you; nor no means of wandering after Curse-a-rats. Do write soon; though I write all about myself, I am thinking all the while of you, and I am uneasy at the length of time it seems since I heard from you. Your mother and Mr. White is running continually in my head; and this second winter makes me think how cold, damp, and forlorn your solitary house will feel to you. I would your feet were perched up again on our fender.". . .
If ever a woman knew how to keep on the right side of that line which, in the close companionship, of daily life is so hard to find, the line that separates an honest faithful friend from "a torment of a monitor," and could divine when and how to lend a man a helping hand against his own foibles, and when to forbear and wait patiently, that woman was Mary Lamb.
Times were changed indeed since Lamb could speak of himself as "alone, obscure, without a friend." Now friends and acquaintance thronged round him, till rest and quiet were almost banished from his fire-side; and though they were banished for the most part by social pleasures he dearly loved–hearty, simple, intellectual pleasures—the best of talk, with no ceremony and the least of expense, yet they had to be paid for by Mary and himself in fevered nerves, in sleep curtailed and endless interruptions to work. There were, besides, "social harpies who preyed on him for his liquors," whom he lacked firmness to shake off, in spite of those "dismal faces" consequent in Mary, of which she penitently accuses herself.
Apart from external distractions, the effort to write, especially any sort of task work, was often so painful to his irritable nerves that, as he said, it almost "teazed him into a fever," whilst Mary's anxious love and close sympathy made his distress her own. There is a letter to Godwin deprecating any appearance of unfriendliness in having failed to review his Life of Chaucer, containing a passage on this subject, which the lover of Lamb's writings and character (and who is one must needs be the other) will ponder with peculiar interest:—
"You, by long habits of composition, and a greater command over your own powers, cannot conceive of the desultory and uncertain way in which I (an author by fits) sometimes cannot put the thoughts of a common letter into sane prose. Any work which I take upon myself as an engagement will act upon me to torment, e.g. when I have undertaken, as three or four times I have, a schoolboy copy of verses for Merchant Taylors' boys at a guinea a copy, I have fretted over them in perfect inability to do them, and have made my sister wretched with my wretchedness for a week together. As to reviewing, in particular, my head is so whimsical a head that I cannot, after reading another man's book, let it have been never so pleasing, give any account of it in any methodical way. I cannot follow his train. Something like this you must have perceived of me in conversation. Ten thousand times I have confessed to you, talking of my talents, my utter inability to remember, in any comprehensive way, what I read. I can vehemently applaud, or perversely stickle at parts, but I cannot grasp a whole. This infirmity may be seen in my two little compositions, the tale and my play, in both which no reader, however partial, can find any story. . . . If I bring you a crude, wretched paper on Sunday, you must burn it and forgive me; if it proves anything better than I predict, may it be a peace-offering of sweet incense between us."
The two friends whose society was always soothing, were far away now. Coleridge, who could always 'wind them up and set them going again,' as Mary said, was still wandering they knew not where on the Continent, and Manning had, at last, carried out a long-cherished scheme and gone to China for four years which, however, stretched to twelve, as Lamb prophesied it would.
"I didn't know what your going was till I shook a last fist with you," says Lamb, "and then 'twas just like having shaken hands with a wretch on the fatal scaffold, for when you are down the ladder you never can stretch out to him again. Mary says you are dead, and there's nothing to do but to leave it to time to do for us in the end what it always does for those who mourn for people in such a case: but she'll see by your letter you are not quite dead. A little kicking and agony, and then—Martin Burney took me out a walking that evening, and we talked of Manning, and then I came home and smoked for you; and at twelve o'clock came home Mary and Monkey Louisa from the play, and there was more talk and more smoking, and they all seemed first-rate characters because they knew a certain person. But what's the use of talking about 'em? By the time you'll have made your escape from the Kalmucks, you'll have stayed so long I shall never be able to bring to your mind who Mary was, who will have died about a year before, nor who the Holcrofts were. Me, perhaps, you will mistake for Phillips, or confound me with Mr. Dawe, because you saw us together. Mary, whom you seem to remember yet, is not quite easy that she had not a formal parting from you. I wish it had so happened. But you must bring her a token, a shawl or something, and remember a sprightly little mandarin for our mantel-piece as a companion to the child I am going to purchase at the museum. . . . O Manning, I am serious to sinking almost, when I think that all those evenings which you have made so pleasant are gone perhaps for ever . . . I will nurse the remembrance of your steadiness and quiet which used to infuse something like itself into our nervous minds. Mary used to call you our ventilator." Mary's next letters to Miss Stoddart continue to fulfil her promise of writing a kind of journal:—
"You say truly that I have sent you too many make-believe letters. I do not mean to serve you so again if I can help it. I have been very ill for some days past with the tooth-ache. Yesterday I had it drawn, and I feel myself greatly relieved, but far from being easy, for my head and my jaws still ache; and being unable to do any business, I would wish to write you a long letter to atone for my former offences; but I feel so languid that I fear wishing is all I can do.
"I am sorry you are so worried with business, and I am still more sorry for your sprained ancle. You ought not to walk upon it. What is the matter between you and your good-natured maid you used to boast of? and what the devil is the matter with your aunt? You say she is discontented. You must bear with them as well as you can, for doubtless it is your poor mother's teazing that puts you all out of sorts. I pity you from my heart.
"We cannot come to see you this summer, nor do I think it advisable to come and incommode you when you for the same expense could come to us. Whenever you feel yourself disposed to run away from your troubles, come to us again. I wish it was not such a long, expensive journey, and then you could run backwards and forwards every month or two. I am very sorry you still hear nothing from Mr. White. I am afraid that is all at an end. What do you intend to do about Mr. Turner? . . . William Hazlitt, the brother of him you know, is in town. I believe you have heard us say we like him. He came in good time, for the loss of Manning made Charles very dull, and he likes Hazlitt better than anybody, except Manning. My tooth-ache has moped Charles to death; you know how he hates to see people ill. . . .
"When I write again, you will hear tidings of the farce, for Charles is to go in a few days to the managers to inquire about it. But that must now be a next year's business too, even if it does succeed, so it's all looking forward and no prospect of present gain. But that's better than no hopes at all, either for present or future times. . . . Charles smokes still, and will smoke to the end of the chapter. Martin [Burney] has just been here. My Tales (again) and Charles' Farce have made the boy mad to turn author, and he has made the Winter's Tale into a story; but what Charles says of himself is really true of Martin, for he can make nothing at all of it, and I have been talking very eloquently this morning to convince him that nobody can write farces, &c. under thirty years of age; and so, I suppose, he will go home and new-model his farce.
"What is Mr. Turner, and what is likely to come of him? And how do you like him? And what do you intend to do about it? I almost wish you to remain single till your mother dies, and then come and live with us, and we would either get you a husband, or teach you how to live comfortably without. I think I should like to have you always, to the end of our lives, living with us; and I do not know any reason why that should not be, except for the great fancy you seem to have for marrying, which after all is but a hazardous kind of affair; but, however, do as you like; every man knows best what pleases himself best.
"I have known many single men I should have liked in my life (if it had suited them) for a husband; but very few husbands have I ever wished was mine, which is rather against the state in general; but one never is disposed to envy wives their good husbands. So much for marrying—but, however, get married if you can.
"I say we shall not come and see you, and I feel sure we shall not; but if some sudden freak was to come into our wayward heads, could you at all manage? Your mother we should not mind, but I think still it would be so vastly inconvenient. I am certain we shall not come, and yet you may tell me when you write if it would be horribly inconvenient if we did; and do not tell me any lies, but say truly whether you would rather we did or not.
"God bless you, my dearest Sarah! I wish for your sake I could have written a very amusing letter; but do not scold, for my head aches sadly. Don't mind my head-ache, for before you get this it will be well, being only from the pains of my jaws and teeth. Farewell."
"Charles and Hazlitt are going to Sadler's Wells, and I am amusing myself in their absence with reading a manuscript of Hazlitt's, but have laid it down to write a few lines to tell you how we are going on. Charles has begged a month's, of which this is the first day, and they are all to be spent at home. We thank you for your kind invitations, and were half-inclined to come down to you; but after mature deliberation, and many wise consultations—such as you know we often hold—we came to the resolution of staying quietly at home, and during the we are both of us to set stoutly to work and finish the tales. We thought if we went anywhere and left them undone, they would lay upon our minds, and that when we returned we should feel unsettled, and our money all spent besides; and next summer we are to be very rich, and then we can afford a long journey somewhere; I will not say to Salisbury, because I really think it is better for you to come to us. But of that we will talk another time.
"The best news I have to send you is that the Farce is accepted; that is to say, the manager has written to say it shall be brought out when an opportunity serves. I hope that it may come out by next Christmas. You must come and see it the first night; for if it succeeds it will be a great pleasure to you, and if it should not we shall want your consolation; so you must come.
"I shall soon have done my work, and know not what to begin next. Now, will you set your brains to work and invent a story, either for a short child's story, or a long one that would make a kind of novel, or a story that would make a play. Charles wants me to write a play, but I am not over-anxious to set about it. But, seriously, will you draw me out a sketch of a story, either from memory of anything you have read, or from your own invention, and I will fill it up in some way or other. . . .
"I met Mrs. Fenwick at Mrs. Holcroft's the other day. She looked placid and smiling, but I was so disconcerted that I hardly knew how to sit upon my chair. She invited us to come and see her, but we did not invite her in return, and nothing at all was said in an explanatory sort, so that matter rests for the present." [Perhaps the little imbroglio was the result of some effort on Mary's part to diminish the frequency of the undesirable Mr. Fenwick's visits. He was a good-for-nothing; but his wife's name deserves to be remembered because she nursed Mary Wollstonecraft tenderly and devotedly in her last illness.] "I am sorry you are altogether so uncomfortable; I shall be glad to hear you are settled at Salisbury: that must be better than living in a lone house companionless, as you are. I wish you could afford to bring your mother up to London, but that is quite impossible. Mrs. Wordsworth is brought to bed, and I ought to write to Miss Wordsworth and thank her for the information, but I suppose I shall defer it till another child is coming. I do so hate writing letters. I wish all my friends would come and live in town. It is not my dislike to writing letters that prevents my writing to you, but sheer want of time, I assure you, because you care not how stupidly I write so as you do but hear at the time what we are about.
"Let me hear from you soon, and do let me hear some good news, and don't let me hear of your walking with sprained ancles again; no business is an excuse for making yourself lame.
"I hope your poor mother is better, and Aunty and Maid jog on pretty well; remember me to them all in due form and order. Charles's love and our best wishes that all your little busy affairs may come to a prosperous conclusion."
"They (Hazlitt and Charles) came home from Sadler's Wells so dismal and dreary dull on Friday evening, that I gave them both a good scolding, quite a setting to rights; and I think it has done some good, for Charles has been very chearful ever since. I begin to hope the home . . .will go on very well. Write directly, for I am uneasy about your Lovers; I wish something was settled. God bless you."
Sarah's lovers continued a source of lively if 'uneasy' interest to Mary. The enterprising young lady had now another string to her bow; indeed, matters this time went so far that the question of settlements was raised and Mary wrote a letter in which her "advising spirit" shows itself as wise as it was unobtrusive, as candid as it was tolerant. Dr. Stoddart clearly estimated her judgment and tact, after his fashion, as highly as Coleridge and Wordsworth did after theirs. Mary wrote:—
"I thank you a thousand times for the beautiful work you have sent me. I received the parcel from a strange gentleman yesterday. I like the patterns very much. You have quite set me up in finery; but you should have sent the silk handkerchief too; will you make a parcel of that and send it by the Salisbury coach? I should like to have it in a few days, because we have not yet been to Mr. Babb's, and that handkerchief would suit this time of year nicely. I have received a long letter from your brother on the subject of your intended marriage. I have no doubt but you also have one on this business, therefore it is needless to repeat what he says. I am well pleased to find that, upon the whole, he does not seem to see it in an unfavourable light. He says that if Mr. Dowling is a worthy man he shall have no objection to become the brother of a farmer; and he makes an odd request to me, that I shall set out to Salisbury to look at and examine into the merits of the said Mr. D., and speaks very confidently as if you would abide by my determination. A pretty sort of an office truly! Shall I come? The objections he starts are only such as you and I have already talked over—such as the difference in age, education, habits of life, &c.
"You have gone too far in this affair for any interference to be at all desirable; and if you had not, I really do not know what my wishes would be. When you bring Mr. Dowling at Christmas, I suppose it will be quite time enough for me to sit in judgment upon him; but my examination will not be a very severe one. If you fancy a very young man, and he likes an elderly gentlewoman, if he likes a learned and accomplished lady, and you like a not very learned youth, who may need a little polishing, which probably he will never acquire; it is all very well, and God bless you both together, and may you be both very long in the same mind!
"I am to assist you too, your brother says, in drawing up the marriage settlements, another thankful office! I am not, it seems, to suffer you to keep too much money in your own power, and yet I am to take care of you in case of bankruptcy; and I am to recommend to you, for the better management of this point, the serious perusal of Jeremy Taylor, his opinion on the marriage state, especially his advice against separate interests in that happy state; and I am also to tell you how desirable it is that the husband should have the entire direction of all money concerns, except, as your good brother adds, in the case of his own family, when the money, he observes, is very properly deposited in Mrs. Stoddart's hands, she being better suited to enjoy such a trust than any other woman, and therefore it is fit that the general rule should not be extended to her.
"We will talk over these things when you come to town; and as to settlements, which are matters of which I—I never having had a penny in my own disposal—never in my life thought of; and if I had been blessed with a good fortune, and that marvellous blessing to boot, a good husband, I verily believe I should have crammed it all uncounted into his pocket. But thou hast a cooler head of thine own, and I daresay will do exactly what is expedient and proper; but your brother's opinion seems somewhat like Mr. Barwis's, and I daresay you will take it into due consideration; yet, perhaps, an offer of your own money to take a farm may make uncle do less for his nephew, and in that case Mr. D. might be a loser by your generosity. Weigh all these things well, and if you can so contrive it, let your brother settle the settlements himself when he returns, which will most probably be long before you want them.
"You are settled, it seems, in the very house which your brother most dislikes. If you find this house very inconvenient, get out of it as fast as you can, for your brother says he sent you the fifty pounds to make you comfortable; and by the general tone of his letter I am sure he wishes to make you easy in money matters; therefore, why straiten yourself to pay the debt you owe him, which I am well assured he never means to take? Thank you for the letter, and for the picture of pretty little chubby nephew John. I have been busy making waiskoats and plotting new work to succeed the Tales; as yet I have not hit upon anything to my mind.
"Charles took an emendated copy of his farce to Mr. Wroughton, the manager, yesterday. Mr.Wroughton was very friendly to him, and expressed high approbation of the farce; but there are two, he tells him, to come out before it; yet he gave him hopes that it will come out this season; but I am afraid you will not see it by Christmas. It will do for another jaunt for you in the spring. We are pretty well and in fresh spirits about this farce. Charles has been very good lately in the matter of Smoking.
"When you come bring the gown you wish to sell, Mrs. Coleridge will be in town then, and if she happens not to fancy it, perhaps some other person may.
"Coleridge, I believe, is gone home, he left us with that design; but we have not heard from him this fortnight. . . .
"My respects to Coridon, mother, and aunty. Farewell. My best wishes are with you.
"When I saw what a prodigious quantity of work you had put into the finery, I was quite ashamed of my unreasonable request. I will never serve you so again, but I do dearly love worked muslin."
So Coleridge was come back at last. "He is going to turn lecturer, on Taste, at the Royal Institution," Charles tells Manning. And the Farce came out and failed. "We are pretty stout about it," he says to Wordsworth; "but, after all, we had rather it had succeeded. You will see the prologue in most of the morning papers. It was received with such shouts as I never witnessed to a prologue. It was attempted to be encored. How hard!—a thing I merely did as a task, because it was wanted, and set no great store by; and Mr. H.!! The number of friends we had in the house, my brother and I being in public offices, was astonishing, but they yielded at length to a few hisses. A hundred hisses! (D—n the word, I write it like kisses—how different!) a hundred hisses outweigh a thousand claps. The former come more directly from the heart. Well 'tis withdrawn and there is an end. Better luck to us."
Sarah's visit came to pass, and proved an eventful one to her. For at the Lambs she now saw frequently their new friend, quite another William than he of "English partridge memory," William Hazlitt; and the intercourse between them soon drifted into a queer kind of courtship, and finally the courtship into marriage. Mary's next letters give piquant glimpses of the wayward course of their love-making. If her sympathies had been ready and unfailing in the case of the unknown lovers, Messrs. White, Dowling, Turner, and mysterious Curse-a-rat, this was an affair of deep and heartfelt interest:—
"I am two letters in your debt, but it has not been so much from idleness, as a wish to see how your comical love affair would turn out. You know I make a pretence not to interfere, but like all old maids I feel a mighty solicitude about the event of love stories. I learn from the lover that he has not been so remiss in his duty as you supposed. His effusion, and your complaints of his inconstancy, crossed each other on the road. He tells me his was a very strange letter, and that probably it has affronted you. That it was a strange letter I can readily believe; but that you were affronted by a strange letter is not so easy for me to conceive, that not being your way of taking things. But, however it may be, let some answer come either to him or else to me, showing cause why you do not answer him. And pray, by all means, preseve the said letter, that I may one day have the pleasure of seeing how Mr. Hazlitt treats of love.
"I was at your brother's on Thursday. Mrs. Stoddart tells me she has not written, because she does not like to put you to the expense of postage. They are very well. Little Missy thrives amazingly. Mrs. Stoddart conjectures she is in the family-way again, and those kind of conjectures generally prove too true. Your other sister-in-law, Mrs. Hazlitt, was brought to bed last week of a boy, so that you are likely to have plenty of nephews and nieces. Yesterday evening we were at Rickman's, and who should we find there but Hazlitt; though if you do not know it was his first invitation there, it will not surprise you as much as it did us. "We were very much pleased, because we dearly love our friends to be respected by our friends. The most remarkable events of the evening were, that we had a very fine pine apple, that Mr. Phillips, Mr. Lamb, and Mr. Hazlitt played at cribbage in the most polite and gentlemanly manner possible, and that I won two rubbers at whist.
"I am glad Aunty left you some business to do. Our compliments to her and to your mother. Is it as cold at Winterslow as it is here? How do the Lions go on? I am better, and Charles is tolerably well. Godwin's new tragedy [Antonio] will probably be damned the latter end of next week [which it was]. Charles has written the prologue. Prologues and epilogues will be his death. If you know the extent of Mrs. Reynolds' poverty, you will be glad to hear Mr. Norris has got ten pounds a year for her from the Temple Society. She will be able to make out pretty well now.
"Farewell. Determine as wisely as you can in regard to Hazlitt, and if your determination is to have him, Heaven send you many happy years together. If I am not mistaken I have concluded letters on the Corydon courtship with this same wish. I hope it is not ominous of change; for, if I were sure you would not be quite starved to death nor beaten to a mummy, I should like to see Hazlitt and you come together if (as Charles observes) it were only for the joke's sake. Write instantly to me."
"I have deferred answering your last letter in hopes of being able to give you some intelligence that might be useful to you; for I every day expected that Hazlitt or you would communicate the affair to your brother; but as the doctor is silent upon the subject, I conclude he knows nothing of the matter. You desire my advice, and therefore I tell you I think you ought to tell your brother as soon as possible; for, at present, he is on very friendly visiting terms with Hazlitt and, if he is not offended by too long concealment, will do everything in his power to serve you. If you chuse that I should tell him I will; but I think it would come better from you. If you can persuade Hazlitt to mention it, that would be still better; for I know your brother would be unwilling to give credit to you, because you deceived yourself in regard to Corydon. Hazlitt, I know, is shy of speaking first; but I think it of such great importance to you to have your brother friendly in the business that, if you can overcome his reluctance, it would be a great point gained. For you must begin the world with ready money—at least an hundred pounds; for if you once go into furnished lodgings, you will never be able to lay by money to buy furniture. If you obtain your brother's approbation he might assist you, either by lending or otherwise. I have a great opinion of his generosity, where he thinks it would be useful.
"Hazlitt's brother is mightily pleased with the match, but he says you must have furniture, and be clear in the world at first setting out, or you will be always behind-hand. He also said he would give you what furniture he could spare. I am afraid you can bring but few things away from your own house. What a pity that you have laid out so much money on your cottage, that money would just have done. I most heartily congratulate you on having so well got over your first difficulties; and now that it is quite settled, let us have no more fears. I now mean not only to hope and wish but to persuade myself that you will be very happy together. Endeavour to keep your mind as easy as you can. You ought to begin the world with a good stock of health and spirits; it is quite as necessary as ready money at first setting out. Do not teize yourself about coming to town. When your brother learns how things are going on, we shall consult him about meetings and so forth; but at present, any hasty step of that kind would not answer, I know. If Hazlitt were to go down to Salisbury, or you were to come up here without consulting your brother, you know it would never do. Charles is just come into dinner: he desires his love and best wishes."
Perhaps the reader will, like Mary, be curious to see one of the lover's letters in this "comical love affair." Fortunately one, the very one, it seems, which Sarah's crossed and was preserved at Mary's particular request, is given in the Hazlitt Memoirs and runs thus:—
"My dear Love,
"Above a week has passed and I have received no letter—not one of those letters 'in which I live or have no life at all.' What is become of you? Are you married, hearing that I was dead (for so it has been reported)? or are you gone into a nunnery? or are you fallen in love with some of the amorous heroes of Boccaccio? Which of them is it? Is it Chynon, who was transformed from a clown into a lover, and learned to spell by the force of beauty? or with Lorenzo the lover of Isabella, whom her three brethren hated (as your brother does me), who was a merchant's clerk? or with Federigo Alberigi, an honest gentleman who ran through his fortune, and won his mistress by cooking a fair falcon for her dinner, though it was the only means he had left of getting a dinner for himself? This last is the man; and I am the more persuaded of it because I think I won your good liking myself by giving you an entertainment—of sausages, when I had no money to buy them with. Nay now, never deny it! Did not I ask your consent that very night after, and did you not give it? Well, I should be confoundedly jealous of those fine gallants if I did not know that a living dog is better than a dead lion; though now I think of it Boccaccio does not in general make much of his lovers; it is his women who are so delicious. I almost wish I had lived in those times and had been a little more amiable. Now if a woman had written the book it would not have had this effect upon me: the men would have been heroes and angels, and the women nothing at all. Isn't there some truth in that? Talking of departed loves, I met my old flame the other day in the street. I did dream of her one night since, and only one: every other night I have had the same dream I have had for these two months past. Now if you are at all reasonable, this will satisfy you.
"Thursday morning.—The book is come. When I saw it I thought that you had sent it back in a huff, tired out by my sauciness and coldness and delays, and were going to keep an account of dimities and sayes, or to salt pork and chronicle small beer as the dutiful wife of some fresh-looking rural swain; so that you cannot think how surprised and pleased I was to find them all done. I liked your note as well or better than the extracts'; it is just such a note as such a nice rogue as you ought to write after the provocation you had received. I would not give a pin for a girl 'whose cheeks never tingle,' nor for myself if I could not make them tingle sometimes. Now though I am always writing to you about 'lips and noses' and such sort of stuff, yet as I sit by my fireside (which I generally do eight or ten hours a day) I oftener think of you in a serious sober light. For indeed I never love you so well as when I think of sitting down with you to dinner on a boiled scrag of mutton and hot potatoes. You please my fancy more then than when I think of you in ———; no, you would never forgive me if I were to finish the sentence. Now I think of it, what do you mean to be dressed hi when we are married? But it does not much matter! I wish you would let your hair grow; though perhaps nothing will be better than 'the same air and look with which at first my heart was took.' But now to business. I mean soon to call upon your brother in form, namely, as soon as I get quite well, which I hope to do in about another fortnight; and then I hope you will come up by the coach as fast as the horses can carry you, for I long mightily to be in your ladyship's presence to vindicate my character. I think you had better sell the small house, I mean that at ₤4 10s., and I will borrow £100, so that we shall set off merrily in spite of all the prudence of Edinburgh.
"Good-bye, little dear!"
Poor Sarah! That "want of a certain dignity of action," nay, of a due "respect for herself," which Mary lamented in her, had been discovered but too quickly by her lover and reflected back, as it was sure to be, in his attitude towards her.
Charles, also, as an interested and amused spectator of the unique love-affair, reports progress to Manning in a letter of Feb. 26th, 1808:—
"Mary is very thankful for your remembrance of her; and with the least suspicion of mercenariness, as the silk, the symbolum materiale of your friendship, has not yet appeared. I think Horace says somewhere nox longa. I would not impute negligence or unhandsome delays to a person whom you have honoured with your confidence; but I have not heard of the silk or of Mr. Kuox save by your letter. May be he expects the first advances! or it may be that he has not succeeded in getting the article on shore, for it is among the res prohibitæ et non nisi smuggle-ationis viâ fruendæ. But so it is, in the friendships between wicked men the very expressions of their good-will cannot but be sinful. A treaty of marriage is on foot between William Hazlitt and Miss Stoddart. Something about settlements only retards it. She has somewhere about £80 a year, to be ₤120 when her mother dies. He has no settlement except what he can claim from the parish. Pauper est tamen, sed amat. The thing is therefore in abeyance. But there is love a-both sides."
In the same month Mary wrote Sarah a letter showing she was alive to the fact that a courtship which appeared to on-lookers, if not to the lover himself, much in the light of a good joke, was not altogether a re-assuring commencement of so serious an affair as marriage. She had her misgivings, and no wonder, as to how far the easy-going, comfort-loving, matter-of-fact Sarah, was fit for the difficult happiness of lifelong companionship with a man of ardent genius and morbid, splenetic temperament, to whom ideas were meat drink and clothing, while the tangible entities bearing those names were likely to be precariously supplied. Still Mary liked both the lovers so well she could not choose but that hope should preponderate over fear. Meeting as they did by the Lambs' fireside, each saw the other to the best advantage. For, in the glow of Mary's sympathy and faith and the fine stimulating atmosphere of Charles' genius, Hazlitt's shyness had first melted away; his thoughts had broken the spell of self-distrust that kept them pent in uneasy silence and had learned to flow forth in a strong and brilliant current, whilst the lowering frown which so often clouded his handsome, eager face was wont to clear off. There, too, Sarah's unaffected good sense and hearty, friendly nature had free play, and perhaps Mary's friendship even reflected on her a tinge of the ideal to veil the coarser side of her character:—
"I have sent your letter and drawing" [of Middleton Cottage, Winterslow, where Sarah was living], Mary writes, "off to Wem [Hazlitt's father's in Shropshire], where I conjecture Hazlitt is. He left town on Saturday afternoon without telling us where he was going. He seemed very impatient at not hearing from you. He was very ill, and I suppose is gone home to his father's to be nursed. I find Hazlitt has mentioned to you the intention which we had of asking you up to town, which we were bent on doing; but, having named it since to your brother, the doctor expressed a strong desire that you should not come to town to be at any other house but his own, for he said it would have a very strange appearance. His wife's father is coming to be with them till near the end of April, after which time he shall have full room for you. And if you are to be married he wishes that you should be married with all the proper decorums from his house. Now though we should be most willing to run any hazards of disobliging him if there were no other means of your and Hazlitt's meeting, yet as he seems so friendly to the match it would not be worth while to alienate him from you and ourselves too, for the slight accommodation which the difference of a few weeks would make ; provided always, and be it understood, that if you and H. make up your minds to be married before the time in which you can be at your brother's, our house stands open and most ready at a moment's notice to receive you. Only we would not quarrel unnecessarily with your brother. Let there be a clear necessity shown and we will quarrel with anybody's brother.
"Now, though I have written to the above effect, I hope you will not conceive but that both my brother and I had looked forward to your coming with unmixed pleasure, and are really disappointed at your brother's declaration; for, next to the pleasure of being married, is the pleasure of making or helping marriages forward.
"We wish to hear from you that you do not take our seeming change of purpose in ill part, for it is but seeming on our part, for it was my brother's suggestion, by him first mentioned to Hazlitt, and cordially approved by me; but your brother has set his face against it, and it is better to take him along with us in our plans, if he will good-naturedly go along with us, than not.
"The reason I have not written lately has been that I thought it better to leave you all to the workings of your own minds in this momentous affair, in which the inclinations of a bystander have a right to form a wish, but not to give a vote.
"Being, with the help of wide lines, at the end of my last page, I conclude with our kind wishes and prayers for the best."
The wedding day was fixed, and Mary was to be bridesmaid.
"Do not be angry that I have not written to you," she says. "I have promised your brother to be at your wedding, and that favour you must accept as an atonement for my offences. You have been in no want of correspondence lately, and I wished to leave you both to your own inventions.
"The border you are working for me I prize at a very high rate, because I consider it as the last work you can do for me, the time so fast approaching that you must no longer work for your friends. Yet my old fault of giving away presents has not left me, and I am desirous of even giving away this your last gift. I had intended to have given it away without your knowledge, but I have intrusted my secret to Hazlitt and I suppose it will not remain a secret long, so I condescend to consult you.
"It is to Miss Hazlitt to whose superior claim I wish to give up my right to this precious worked border. Her brother William is her great favourite and she would be pleased to possess his bride's last work. Are you not to give the fellow border to one sister-in-law, and therefore has she not a just claim to it? I never heard, in the annals of weddings (since the days of Nausicaa, and she only washed her old gowns for that purpose) that the brides ever furnished the apparel of their maids. Besides I can be completely clad in your work without it; for the spotted muslin will serve both for cap and hat (nota bene, my hat is the same as yours), and the gown you sprigged for me has never been made up, therefore I can wear that—or, if you like better, I will make up a new silk which Manning has sent me from China. Manning would like to hear I wore it for the first time at your wedding. It is a very pretty light colour, but there is an objection (besides not being your work, and that is a very serious objection), and that is, Mrs. Hazlitt tells me that all Winterslow would be in an uproar if the bridesmaid was to be dressed in anything but white, and although it is a very light colour, I confess we cannot call it white, being a sort of dead-whiteish bloom colour. Then silk, perhaps, in a morning is not so proper, though the occasion, so joyful, might justify a full dress. Determine for me in this perplexity between the sprig and the China-Manning silk. But do not contradict my whim about Miss Hazlitt having the border, for I have set my heart upon the matter. If you agree with me in this, I shall think you have forgiven me for giving away your pin—that was a mad trick; but I had many obligations and no money. I repent me of the deed, wishing I had it now to send to Miss H. with the border; and I cannot, will not give her the Doctor's pin, for having never had any presents from gentlemen in my young days, I highly prize all they now give me, thinking my latter days are better than my former.
"You must send this same border in your own name to Miss Hazlitt, which will save me the disgrace of giving away your gift, and make it amount merely to a civil refusal.
"I shall have no present to give you on your marriage, nor do I expect I shall be rich enough to give anything to baby at the first christening; but at the second or third child's, I hope to have a coral or so to spare out of my own earnings. Do not ask me to be godmother, for I have an objection to that; but there is, I believe, no serious duties attaching to a bridesmaid, therefore I come with a willing mind, bringing nothing with me but many wishes, and not a few hopes, and a very little fear of happy years to come."
If, as may be hoped, the final decision was in favour of the 'dead-whiteish-bloom-China-Manning' silk the Winterslow folk were spared all painful emotions on the subject, as the wedding took place at St. Andrew's, Holborn (May-Day morning, 1808), Dr. and Mrs. Stoddart and Charles and Mary Lamb the chief, perhaps the only guests. The comedy of the courtship merging into the solemnity of marriage was the very occasion to put Lamb into one of his wildest moods; "I had like to have been turned out several times during the ceremony," he confessed to Southey afterwards. "Anything awful makes me laugh. I misbehaved once at a funeral. Yet can I read about these ceremonies with pious and proper feelings. The realities of life only seem the mockeries."