20 JANUARY 1866, Page 14



Ma. J?ITZGERALD thinks it necessary, because he writes about Lamb, to affect to be Lambish, just as persons writing about Carlyle are often absurd enough to be Carlylish, and to discourse on " the great fact of the man Carlyle." Because Lamb loved rambling on without any method but the turns of his own humour, Mr. Fitzgerald rambles on about Lamb without any method at all. "Is it fanciful," he says, "to suppose that a treatment a little fitful and rambling would be almost in keeping with Lamb's own nature, which might have shrunk from the more formal honours of official biography ?" We should say it is

fanciful,—quite fanciful,—in any one to whom the " fitful and rambling" treatment is not the natural and fitting literary expres- sion, which it was to Lamb. Mr. Percy Fitzgerald's fitfulness and ramblingness are a little like an elderly spinster's girlish ways,— like Merry Pecksuiff's early fascinations. When Mr. Pecksniff showed Martin Chnzzlewit round his new home, he just opened the bedroom door where the Miss Pecksniffs slept, and said to Martin, " Birds, flowers, you see, Martin,—such things as girls love !" but the birds ware, says the biographer, limited to a lame sparrow, which had been captured and imprisoned in an old cage expressly for the occasion. This is a little the effect left upon us by Mr. Fitzgerald's Lambishness in discoursing about Lamb. He seems to say, "Bookstalls, folios, bindings, oddities, you see, dear readers, such things as Lamb loved," and then to put on quaintish, sly freaks of man- ner, the tears-and-smiles mood, to tread daintily with no visible occasion for dainty treading, to fall into extasies about nothing particular because it was Lamb's way, and fall out of them again with difficulty in anything but Lamb's way, and all because in talking about Lamb he wants to be Lambish, instead of forming any connected or distinct conception of him and his genius. Thus, for example :—

" Even over the stall-keepers themselves, their calling exercises a 'chastening influence. They are generally simple men, rarely griping. So with those who explore the stalls. They have a special eye, a quick glance that runs along the shelves ; which as it lights on the peculiar rusted back—say the tarnished but mellow bit' of old French red morocco—kindles with an eagle glance. So with their touch, which is almost tender, opening with a familiar but cautions reverence, and laying the book back softly, not ramming it violently between its fellows, to the certain abrasion of its sides, as rude heretics do. After all, it is a good and redeeming toleration in those who watch over public build- ings, bridge parapets, and the like, who suffer the humble professors of this craft, and allow to their shelves wall space. This is a redeeming feature in our hard, practical age ; and who shall say that it is not a warm, pleasant, and appropriate furniture—like ivy for a wall—for the outside of inns of court, for the long stretch of the Quai Voltaire, and the bases of the Academy pillars in gay Paris ? It gives a subdued monastic or scholastic air, that tells of quiet men and gentle soholars- gentle scholars, like Walter Scott, Lamb, and a hundred others."

We suppose the value of that must be that Mr. Fitzgerald thinks it the sort of thing Lamb would have said. Certainly it does not strike us as at all true of modern bookstall-keepers, bookstall fre- quenters, or bookstall permitters. In London, bookstalls, even if they have this softening influence on the hard culture of the day, have seldom now any privilege of access to places where other and vulgarer stalls are not also allowed. Then, speaking of Lamb's appearances in Hone's Every-Day Book, Mr. Fitzgerald gets into a rapture about nothing, and says :—

"He is brought out' by an allusion to Sir Jeffrey Dunstan, whom he

had met and seen at his dwelling. strong odour of burnt bones, I remember, blending with the scent of horse-flesh reeking into dogs' meat, and only relieved a little by the breathings of a few brick-kilns, made up the atmosphere.' This is one of Lamb's wonderful 'gatherings' of oddness ; and even the quaint position of the words remember' is worthy of study."

What there is quaint or ' worthy of study' in the position of the words ' I remember' we are quite unable to see. Lamb him- self would probably have regarded study' of that point as decidedly imbecile. Or again :—

" A correspondent, Tim Tims, gossiping about the ass brings out Lamb again to plead for this suffering servant. 'Nature did pru- dently in furnishing him with a tegument impervious to ordinary

stripes His back offers no mark to a puny foeman. To a com- mon whip or switch his side presents an -absolute insensibility His jerkin is well fortified Contemplating this natural safe- guard, his fortified exterior, it is with pain I view the sleek, foppish, combed, and curried person of this animal, as he is transmuted and dianaturalizod at watering-places, &c., where they affect to make a palfrey of him. Fie on all such sophisticating ! It will never do, Master Groom. Something of his honest shaggy exterior will peep up in spite of you—his good, rough, native pine-apple coating.' Pine-apple

• Charles Lamb, his Friends, h:s flaunts, and his Books. ByPerci Fitsdersld, M.A., F.B.A. London: Bent:ey. . coating ! How truly after Lamb's mind, the deceit in suggesting an agreeable image, which, on a second's reflection, shows us quite a dif- ferent idea. Nothing, too, is more remarkable in him than his airy and special use of the ' &e "

This is indeed indulging in forced raptures over deep no-mean- ings. ' Airy use of the &c.' because Lamb, instead of putting " at watering-places, places of amusement; sight-seeing places, and the like," shortens down his meaning, as a good essayist should, with an &c.' Nor do we imagine that Lamb, even if warned by Mr. Fitzgerald that he had been very subtle about the pine-apple coating of the ass, would have been able to take credit for really meaning it. If he did mean to suggest, and then balk his readers of, the agreeable idea of the taste of pine-apple, in using the illustration of "pine-apple coating" to express the hardness of the ass's skin, we do not see the humour of the freak. What was more in his mind perhaps was to suggest the value of the ass, by the strong shag coat nature had given to him and to the pine-apple alike. But to us this sort of forced critical rapture over an imaginary touch that no one would really care about even if it were seriously meant, has rather a tendency to provoke,—if any- thing could provoke us with Lamb,—than to heighten our regard for him. The only respectable criticisms we have found in this book are, first, the suggestion of a certain analogy between Dickens's and Lamb's treatment of old childish recollections,—like Noah's arks, for instance,—and next the observation, not perhaps very recondite, that in the title of Lamb's essay on "The Decay of Beggars is the Metropolis" "there is an art and significance in the choice of the word' decay ;' it is the key to the whole essay that follows, conveying, as it were, that mendicancy was one of the choice blessings and pleasant things of life, decaying away just as the old artificial fountains in the old squares of London were being bricked up and abolished." This is a just but surely rather obvious remark, considering that Lamb called his essay expressly " A Complaint of the Decay of Beggars in the Metropolis." Mr. Fitzgerald's book affords us, on the whole, bat a small net profit of respectable criticism, for 229 pages of rambling matter, though we readily admit that a certain considerable proportion of the space is taken up with extracts— often good—from the more scattered writings of Lamb, which are not always easy to lay your hand upon. Still, even this benefit is sadly diluted by artificial raptures; for, Mr. Fitzgerald, while doing his very best to screw up his mind into the quaint simplicities of "Lamb the frolic and the gentle," succeeds only in attaining a very awkward and far from frolicsome simplesse.

A real study of Lamb,—not an etude, if what Mr. Fitzgerald has written be an etude,—illustrating the different kinds of his

humour and his pathos, and their relation to each other, would have been a fine subject for an essay, though there are not many perhaps who could adequately work it out. Leigh Hunt used to say of Lamb that he had a head worthy of Aristotle, but a great disinclination to exert the powerful understanding which he really possessed. We believe a great secret of his humour will be found in this remark. Lamb saw clearly the inference to which reason on all sorts of subjects led, but deliberately shied at the light as a horse would shy at a sudden stream of light through the gap in a fence, and took to defending some arbitrary view cherished by old and dear associations instead. Nevertheless the gleam of light

from which he turns away with such mock disgust is never absent from his mind, and he writes, not like Dr. Johnson, a downright earnest defence of what is old-fashioned or unreasonable, but a plea for it that is the more humorous because you see at every point that he is resolutely painting out the rational background

which he dislikes and is trying to ignore at every touch. Thus his "Complaint of the Decay of Beggars in the Metropolis," is humor- ous by that very emphasis and grandeur of encomium on the fast vanishing mendicants which betrays his knowledge of the truth behind. It is the fertility of the resource which he lavishes in ex-..e eluding the truth, and excluding it by a picture intended to charm the eye far more than the reality he is seeking to paint out, which betrays to us that he is all the time smiling to himself at his own ingenuity, nay, indirectly painting his own mental smile, while professing to be busy on praise of the mendicants. Thus he says of the beggar, " He is the only man in the universe who is not obliged to study appearances. The ups and downs of the world concern him no longer. He alone continueth in one stay. . . . No man troubleth him with questioning his religion or politics. He is the only free man in the universe." Or again, of the beggar who had lost his lower limbs, and used to push himself about on his wheeled machine, "He seemed earth-born, an Antieus, and to suck in fresh vigour from the soil which he neighboured. He was a grand fragment,—as good as an Elgin marble. The nature which should have recruited his ref t legs and thighs was not lost, but only retired into his upper parts, and he was half a Hercules." The amused knowledge betrayed throughout this most humorous essay that its author was staving off unwelcome general truths by charming pictures of his own wayward and capricious preferences for things as they are, is the secret of its humour. Lamb said

of himself very happily, that " the impressions of infancy had burnt into him, and he resented the impertinences of manhood." It was

this resentment of the impertinences of manhood, combined with a clear though averted understanding of what manhood had forced upon him, that created the double current in his mind requisite to all humour.

Another and probably even richer source of Lamb's humour was allied to this just so far as all sorts of intellectual waywardness have the same root. Just as his fancy rebelled against the rational view of a subject, glanced aside from it, and suggested mock rea- son after mock reason for rejecting it, so even when there was no

room for a rebellion of this sort, his mind was fertile beyond expres- sion in detecting oblique ways out of common-places,---back ways, aide ways, even blind alleys leadingfrom common-places anywhither

or uowhither, as the case might be. He says of a pun, "It is a pistol let off at the ear," to startle the mind. And the reason why he was so good a punster was, that his mind was always starting aside, like a bow bent, from the rigid matter-of-fact views of things. He was, he said, "not a matter-of-fact man, but a matter-of-lie man," and certainly his mind had a wonderful felicity in detecting any

opportunity*of escaping, at an acute angle as it were, from the ordinary line of thought. Mr. Percy Fitzgerald has half-spoiled

his most brilliant pun. When the Highgate omnibus conductor

called out, " All full inside ?" Lamb, who was half asleep in his corner, woke up to stammer out, "Well, I can't answer for the other gentlemen, but that last piece of pudding at Mrs. Gilman's did the basiness for me." The attraction of puns to him was this sudden and violent diversion they afforded from the...beaten track. His brillianteenswer to a superior at the India House, who complained that he Sways came late, "Well, that is very true, but then I always gtway early," was a diversion of exactly the same cha- racter. et this happy zigzag impulse in his intellect, implied the clearest possible insight into the straight line of thought by the very eagerness of his desire to deviate from it. And this is in fact proved by his criticisms of poetry and dramatic art,"some of the finest in the language. Here his sympathies acted with his reason, iustead of tempting him into capricious rebellion. There are bits of Shakespearian criticism,—such as that on Malvolio,— which Coleridge scarcely equalled and never surpassed, and criti- cism,: on actors of the day such as no living man can write.

Yet after all perhaps his highest humour, the humour by which he will be beat remembered, is the humour of his occasional wild moods, on which sufficient stress is seldom laid. When people talk of his quaintness, and his dainty choice of words, and so

forth, they suggest a sort of tame dry humour. Now Lamb's humour was very far from dry. In its happiest moments it was

a sort of passion, to which he throws the reins and lets it carry him fast and far. Even in the great essay on the origin of roast pig, one could almost imagine that the main conception had been first suggested by the old gentleman in small clothes who used to throw the vegetable marrows over the wall to Mrs. Nickleby as an expression of his adoration. Or take Lamb's conduct to the unfortu- nate stamp distributor, who expressed his belief that Milton was " a very clever man," whereupon Lamb, half dozing till then before

the fire,—he had dined, not without wine, it is true,—jumped up, lighted a bed-candle, and calling out, " Let me have a look at that gentleman's phrenological developments," walked round the unfortunate man, amidst Wordsworth's shocked exclamations of " Charles ! my dear Charles !" and even, when forced into the next room, continued to sing audibly,

"Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John Went to bed with his breeches on,"

—as expressive, we suppose, of the stamp distributor's very coarse and inappropriate clothing for the absolute nakedness of his mind on the subject of Milton. There is the same wildness of humour about this story of Mr. Fitzgerald's :-- "Quito in the same way is his humorous treatment of the poet whose friend had submitted some newly published verses to his inspection. He was to meet the gentleman at dinner, and the poems were shown to Lamb a little before the author's arrival. When he came, he proved to be empty and conceited. Daring dinner Lamb fell into the delightful drollery of saying, now and again, That reminds me of some verses I wrote when I was very young,' and then quoted a line or two, which he recollected, from the gentleman's book, to the latter's amazement and indignation. Lamb, immensely diverted, capped it all by introducing the first lines of Paradise. Lost Of man's first disobedience,' as also written by himself, which actually brought the gentleman on his feet, bursting with rage. He said he had sat by and allowed his own little verses' to be taken without protest, but he could not endure to see Milton pillaged."

And the letter to Mr. P. G. Patmore,—the one nugget in that gentleman's voluminous reminiscences published some eleven yearn ago,—which Mr. Fitzgerald has copied from that work, is the perfection of wild, unbridled humour, starting off at all sorts of tangents, but keeping up a pace that no mere dainty or quaint humourist ever even conceived :— "Cuanza Lams TO P. G. PATIIORE.

" Dear P.—I am so poorly ! I have been to a funeral, where I made a pun, to the consternation of the rest of the mourners. And we had wine. I can't describe to you the howl which the widow set up at proper intervals. Dash could, for it was not unlike what he makes. . . . Dash is frightful this morning. He whines and stands up on his hind legs. He misses Becky, who is gone to town. I took him to Barnet the other day, and he couldn't eat his victuals after it. Pray God his intellects be not slipping. Mary is gone out for some 'soles. I suppose it's no use to ask you to come and partake of 'em ; else there's a steam vessel. . . . Oh, I am so poorly ! I waked it at my cousin's the book- binder's, who is now with God ; or if he is not, it's no fault of mine. We hope the Frank wines do not disagree with Mrs. Patmore. By the way, I like her. Did you ever taste frogs? Get them, if you can. They are like little Lilliput rabbits, only a thought nicer. Christ, how sick I am!—not of the world, but of the widow's shrub. She's sworn under £6,000. but I think she perjured herself. She howls in E la, and I comfort her in B flat. You understand music ? If you haven't got Messinger, you have nothing to do but go to the first bibliotheque you can light upon at Boulogne, and ask for it (Gifford's edition), and if they haven't got it, you can have Athalie, par Monsieur Racine, and make the best of it. But that 'Old Law' s delicious. 'No shrimps!' (That's in answer to Mary's question about how the soles are to be done.) I am uncertain where this wandering letter may reach you. What you mean by Poste Restante, God knows. Do you mean I must pay the postage ? So I do, to Dover. We had a merry passage with the widow at the Commons. She was howling—part howling and part giving directions to the proctor—when crash ! down went my sister through a crazy chair, and made the clerks grin, and I grinned, and the widow tittered—and then I knew that she was not inconsolable. Mary was more frightened than hurt. She'd make a good match for any body (by she, I mean the widow).

If he bring but a relict away

He is happy, nor heard to complain:—Sn-Exeroms. Proctor has got a wen growing out at the nape of his neck, which his wife wants him to have cut off ; but I think it rather an agreeable ex- crescence—like his pootry—redundant. Hone has hanged himself for debt. Godwin was taken up for picking pockets. Becky takes to Fr.,. father was blown up in a steam machine. The coroner found it lnsantty. snonid not line nun to sit on my tette. r. Do you observe my direction ? Is it Gallic?—Classical ? Do try and get some frogs. You must ask for `gronouilles' (green-eels). They do 't d staaa `&^O`'' th„„„A jes , • y n un er- Bulloign (Boulogne), tranflr8°,. with us. If you go through

home from the Crusades. He must be a very old man now.

is anything new in politics or literature in France, keep it till I see you again, for I'm in no hurry. Chatty-Briant (Chateanbriand) is well, I hope. I think. I have no more news; only give both our loves ( all throe,' says Dash) to Mrs. Patmore, and bid her get quite well, as I am at present, bating qualms, and the grief incident to losing a valuable

. relation. "C L. " Londres, July 19, 1827."

It is ill work refining upon the secret of the humour in such mad fun as this, and we will not taper it off into common-place by any comment of our own. We take leave of Mr. Fitzgerald, not without a feeling of gratitude that he has led us to return once again to the most charming of essayists, though we cannot say that his somewhat histrionic raptures have, in any other way than by reminding us of Lamb once more, increased the charm of that freshest, and sweetest, and even (in spite of its pathos) gayest corner of English literature.